If you watched any Nebraska Cornhusker football games the past four years you were subjected to all of the jokes about quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. Among the most popular jabs thrown at the Jekyll-and-Hyde quarterback was referring to him as Tommy Arm(not so)Strong. Ha! Get it? Yes. We all got it.
Now what i’m about to say will come as a huge surprise to my Husker bred wife. Calling it a “huge surprise” may even be considered the understatement of the year. I’m here to defend Armstrong and his aspirations of becoming an NFL player. Notice that I didn’t say NFL quarterback?
But first, a trip down memory lane…Do you remember Eric Crouch?
Crouch was the Nebraska quarterback from 1998-2001. He was one of the most electrifying players that I have ever seen play in person. If you’re a Missouri fan, I know you remember his 95-yard touchdown run out of the South endzone at Faurot Field. That is the longest run from scrimmage by a Cornhusker and I had a front row seat for that kick in the groin. Missouri had him sacked for a safety! Except they didn’t.
He led Nebraska to its last national championship game appearance in 2001 and became the last Husker to win the Heisman trophy in that same year. Needless to say, Crouch is one of the best all-time players to wear the red N on the side of his helmet. But you know what? His overall statistics weren’t eye popping.
During the course of his career, he completed 51.5% of his passes for 4,481 yards; threw 29 touchdowns with 25 interceptions; rushed for 3,434 yards to go along with 59 rushing touchdowns. He was obviously more of a threat with his legs than with his arm. And once he was drafted by the Rams in the 2002 draft, he was still caught up in what he had been in college. He thought he was still a quarterback. Crouch’s NFL career was a flop and he himself attributes much of that disappointment to not sincerely buying into the idea of switching positions.
Back to the present day as Tommy Armstrong is attempting to make an NFL roster as an undrafted free agent.
One would think that Crouch’s collegiate numbers would be far superior to Armstrong’s. But that’s not the case. During the course of Armstrong’s Nebraska career, he completed 53.3% of his passes for 8,871 yards; threw 67 touchdowns with 44 interceptions; rushed for 1,819 yards to go along with 23 rushing touchdowns.
The two quarterbacks played in different eras. It makes sense that Armstrong would have thrown for more yards given the modern day infatuation with the spread offense and RPO schemes. But it’s the completion percentage that tells much of the story for me. Neither Crouch nor Armstrong were legitimate quarterbacks. This is something that Armstrong realizes as he makes he way to the NFL. It was something that Crouch realized after it was too late.
With each Nebraska game I watched with my wife, I kept telling her that Armstrong was not a quarterback and he’d be best served switching positions. That is precisely what he is trying to do.
As Armstrong prepared for the draft, it was as a wide receiver or running back. He gets it. Even with that preparation on the offensive side of the ball, he was still receptive to the Vikings bringing him to camp to play safety. It didn’t workout with the Vikings, but the guy just wants to play football. He doesn’t seem to be discouraged.
I wasn’t a fan of Armstrong the quarterback but, based on his determination to fulfill his dream of playing in the NFL, I am absolutely a fan of Armstrong the person. With the mindset that he has exhibited, we should all be rooting for him to succeed.
E-mail Seth at seth [dot] merenbloom [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
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