Planning for success: Big Ten

LINCOLN, Neb. -- When Tommy Armstrong Jr. took over the job as starting quarterback four games into last season, his Nebraska teammates found him in quiet moments and offered encouragement.

You were made for this, they told him. We wouldn't want anyone else back there.

As Armstrong, now a 20-year-old sophomore, prepares to start on Saturday at home against Florida Atlantic, the roles have reversed after an offseason of transformation for the quarterback.

"He talks more," senior I-back Ameer Abdullah said. "He talks a lot now. He actually talks too much."

Armstrong went 7-1 as a starter last season. Still, his inexperience showed. Backup Ron Kellogg III saved Armstrong with a Hail Mary to beat Northwestern and replaced him early in Nebraska's win at Penn State. Armstrong struggled to find consistency, completing 51.9 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and eight interceptions.

But he created a foundation. Over the past eight months, Armstrong has continued to build upon a solid finish to his rookie year -- a Gator Bowl victory over Georgia -- by developing into a trusted leader of the Nebraska offense, according to coaches and teammates.

"Being the leader on the team," Armstrong said, "you have to be able to talk to your teammates just like they expect you to."

So when Armstrong strays from the correct path, he said, he expects Abdullah or senior left guard Jake Cotton or receiver Kenny Bell to set him straight. And when one of them needs help, Armstrong won't hesitate to speak up.

"At the end of the day, we are all family," he said, "and we are all teammates. If one person is down and out, everybody is going to be the same way. You just have go out there and do your job."

Armstrong's plan for 2014 success involved eliminating the domino effect of mistakes. As a freshman, he said, an error often led to others.

His top area of improvement this month in preseason camp? Moving the chains, he said. He's more likely to find the open man on a short route when he would have misfired downfield last year.

Teammates have noticed.

"I'm really proud of the kid," Cotton said. "He's come a long way."

Abdullah, a senior and the nation's top returning rusher, chides Armstrong jokingly for his more vocal presence. Really, Abdullah likes the quarterback's maturity. Abdullah said the offseason work has paid off nicely.

"He understand the plays much better, so he throws to where his windows," Abdullah said. "He's much quicker. He understands where people are going to be, which coverages to play away from, and he's hitting lanes much quicker, which is really critical as a quarterback in this offense."

All the talk means little before Saturday, said Armstrong, who has dropped about 10 pounds from last season to a playing weight of 215 and feels stronger.

"I am expected to do what I have been doing all spring and fall," he said. "And that is to put these guys in the right position to win some football games."