LINCOLN, Neb. - After 14 spring practices, many which were open to the media, I am confident writing the following statement.
There is a legitimate quarterback battle brewing in Lincoln.
So often position battles, especially at the signal-caller position, are fabricated either by the media, fans, or even coaches to motivate a player.
Not this one.
Judging by the amount of reps and the carefulness by the coaching staff to not single anyone out with the media, it looks like the first few weeks of fall camp could feature an intense competition to be the guy against BYU on Sept. 5.
New head coach Mike Riley said last Saturday there wasn’t a defined pecking order at the quarterback position - the statement doesn’t appear to be fluff.
The favorite, junior Tommy Armstrong (pictured) is 16-5 as the Huskers’ starter the past two seasons. Experience is a hard thing to duplicate.
While Armstrong has had his good moments this spring, including yesterday in misty conditions, his struggles with accuracy and hesitation with the ball at times have been seen by Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf.
Last season, Armstrong threw 12 interceptions and had a quarterback completion percentage around 53 percent in 14 contests. Riley has said multiple times 60 percent, in an offense that features quite a few more opportunities in the air, is a desired number.
A former state champion in Georgia, Bush was labeled a project when he signed with the Huskers just 14 months ago. His work with Langsdorf, a guy who has been a quarterback coach at the highest level, has improved his game in a hurry. He’s still a bit raw at times, but appears to be up to the challenge.
“He (Langsdorf) tells me something, I do it, and immediately it’s a good result,” said Bush, speaking with the Nebraska media for the first time on Wednesday. “I just need to keep doing it.”
At 6-foot-3, 220-pounds, Bush looks the part and knows his development this spring has been one of the biggest storylines among fans in March and April.
“That can drastically change real quick," said Bush. "I'm trying to stay consistent, because I know I got off to a good start. I just want to stay that way. Coming into Saturday, I want to keep playing right and within the system, making plays."
But does it really feel like a true competition?
“Definitely,” said Bush. “They really came in and made the clean slate thing really clear. That gave us all hope. We came here to compete, we didn’t come here to sit.”
Darlington’s name as a contender could be even a bigger surprise for fans who watched his recruitment closely coming out of high school.
A state champion at Apopka high school in Florida during his junior year, Darlington suffered his second concussion in high school during the first game of his senior year.
The game, which was nationally televised by ESPN, was closely watched by Nebraska fans as Darlington was already committed to the program. The quarterback was eventually airlifted to a local hospital after being completely knocked unconscious on the field.
The head injury caused the high three-star prospect to miss the remaining portion of his senior year and an All-American contest he was invited to. While some might have found a nice way to rescind his scholarship, Nebraska stuck with him.
Darlington was eventually cleared for practices shortly before fall camp last year, but likely benefited from a new coaching staff this spring.
“The previous staff, because of what happened in high school, they were there and saw it. They knew about the possibilities of what could happen. With this staff, they just gave me a shot,” said Darlington. “They came in, watched me lift, watched me go through everyday activities, they saw I was perfectly fine. I had my time to heal up and rest like the doctors wanted. I think that is what gave me a chance (this spring).”
A son of a high school coach, Darlington looks like he has handled the installation of Langsdorf’s new offense quite well. While he doesn’t have the strongest arm or the fattest release of the five scholarship quarterbacks, his ability to know where to go with the football has helped him this spring.
“I remember him (his father) rewinding the same play five, six, seven times. At first I didn’t know what he was doing,” said Darlington. “Then I realized he was watching every single player on the field. Now when I watch film, that is how I do it. I look at myself first and evaluate where my reads should be….when you are able to critique everything and be your worst critic, I think that is when you really mesh together and you can do some nice things with the ball.”
Also on the roster scholarship wise is junior Ryker Fyfe and sophomore Johnny Stanton. Both saw game snaps in 2014, but look like they have taken a backseat to Armstrong, Bush, and Fyfe. The thing to remember is, a pecking order can change in a hurry. Within a few practices, there can be a new flavor of the day.
It’s somewhat hard to imagine all five scholarship quarterbacks being enrolled at Nebraska in August - especially considering there are no seniors on the roster. At this point, the quarterbacks look like they will be completely live on Saturday during the Red-White game. It is one final opportunity to impress this spring.