CHICAGO - With none of Nebraska's three quarterbacks truly separating themselves from the rest of the pack during spring practice, the coaching staff has insisted that the starting job this season remains up for grabs going into fall camp.
Reading between the lines, though, it's fairly clear that the spot is Tommy Armstrong's to lose, assuming the redshirt sophomore - who started eight games in 2013 - can step up and solidify himself as the No. 1 signal caller when practice kicks back up next week. Based on reports of his progress over the summer, that task may just be a matter of time.
Head coach Bo Pelini said Armstrong had "a leg up" on redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton and sophomore Ryker Fyfe coming out of spring ball, and he was currently the leader entering the fall. But Pelini wouldn't go as far as to hand Armstrong the reigns of the offense until he proved he was ready to take it with his play on the field.
"When we go into camp and line up for the first play, Tommy Armstrong will be under center," Pelini said. "Does that mean he's going to be the first one under center when we open the season? Not necessarily. That's up to him."
Based on his observations of Armstrong this spring and through summer conditioning, Pelini said he was confident the Cibolo, Texas, native had all the tools to lead the Huskers under center this season and beyond. The biggest hurdle facing Armstrong, and the rest of the quarterbacks for that matter, was not putting too much pressure on himself to win the game on every play and making the right decisions with the football.
"We're going to have a very talented quarterback in there, whoever that ends up being," Pelini said. "But the pieces around them, they're going to be pretty good. I think that's going to be a big piece of the puzzle, is the quarterback understanding that you don't have to go out there and win a game by yourself. Let the offense work for you, let the talent around you do their job too."
Senior running back Ameer Abdullah is obviously one of those pieces, but he said he was very confident in Armstrong being up for the challenge and becoming just as dangerous of a weapon for NU's offense.
"I have high expectations for Tommy because he's grown up a lot in the last few months," Abdullah said. "It'll be interesting to see, but I also have a lot of expectations for the guys competing with Tommy. I think that's the nature you should have. You don't ever want anyone to get comfortable."
Pelini said he was excited to finally get a chance to see Armstrong translate all the work he's put in in the weight room over the summer onto the practice field. Maybe even more so, Pelini said he wants to see if Armstrong has taken that next step in developing into the type of quarterback who could lead Nebraska to a championship.
"It comes down to decision making," Pelini said. "He has the ability to do a lot of different things. He can obviously run, he can be physical, he can make a guy miss, and he can make all the throws. But it's being able to put it all together and his understanding of the offense and making good decisions and being very efficient, and that just comes with experience and time. I think he's made strides and he'll continue to make strides, and that's what makes up a really great quarterback.
"Obviously when we start practice next Monday, that will be the first time he'll get a chance to take all that and put it all together. Up till now, I think he's done a good job of doing what he needs to do to set himself up to have a big year."