Tommy Armstrong gained his fame as an athletic quarterback for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. He worked out as a quarterback and wide receiver at his pro day. He was invited to the Minnesota Vikings rookie minicamp as a running back. And, about a month later, was signed as a safety.
It’s been a positional blur for Armstrong since the end of his college career.
“It’s fun. It’s a humbling experience. I’m just trying to take it a day at a time,” he told Viking Update Wednesday while attending the Vikings’ charity golf tournament. “Now that I’m set at a certain position, it’s been a fun move. A week-and-a-half of just being out there and learning and doing as much as I can with [defensive backs coach Jerry] Gray.”
But Armstrong’s tutelage hasn’t been limited to guys who are paid to be coaches. He has two very successful veterans offering him advice.
The first is cornerback Terence Newman, who defies his nearly 39 years of life by maintaining his productive NFL career.
“I’ve got great guys out there, that’s helped me. Terence Newman is one of the guys that works with me after practice,” Armstrong said. “He’s helped me a lot during practice, working with me one-on-one, just to get me to do as much as I can before practice is over with to learn as much as I can so quickly.
“Just helping me mentally and physically. He’s always standing right beside me when he’s not in or I’m not in and asking me questions about what I have on this, what are the indicators for run or pass. He just wants me to acknowledge things a little quicker and I work with him afterwards on my footwork to be quicker in and out of breaks and being able to just cover a little bit better. It’s just coming easier because I work with him.”
Newman appears to have taken a special interest in Armstrong’s transition. Not only has he worked with Armstrong on his backpedal and footwork after practices, but at the Vikings’ charity golf tournament he was seeking out Armstrong to get him on the practice range before the players hit the course with team sponsors.
Harrison Smith has been named a Pro Bowl player each of the last two seasons and knows how mentally demanding the safety position can be for a rookie.
“It’s different for every guy, but as a safety you have to make a lot of adjustments and a lot of calls and if you’re kind of late thinking of that it’s going to mess up the whole play for you. That’s even before you start actually playing,” Smith said when asked about the toughest task as a rookie safety. “You just have to go over a lot of things when you’re in your hotel room. You have to go over every play, every adjustment that can happen and then that allows you to actually go play football instead of being out there thinking the whole time because then you’re not an athlete anymore. There’s just so much more in the NFL than there is in college as far as scheme and things like that, so I think once you get that down, then you can go back to being the player that you really are.”
Armstrong won’t be expected to be a starter as Smith was in his rookie season, but having played quarterback in college should help in diagnosing what an offense is trying to do.
“Yeah, identifying different formations based on down and distance, being able to know exactly what the offense wants to do based on what they go into,” he said.
Armstrong seemed to know that quarterback wouldn’t be his calling card in the NFL, which is why he worked out at several different positions during the predraft process.
“I kind of labeled myself as an athlete right after the first game of the season just to have my mind open to any position to help a team. That’s helped a lot,” he said.
While Armstrong focused mainly on the offensive skills positions after his senior season ended, his agent advised him that defense might also be a possibility.
He called his first couple weeks there “a great learning experienced,” and he has several veterans willing to show him the ropes from a defensive perspective. But, despite his quarterback background, the mental part of the transition will be a challenge.
As for the physical part of the position, he believes he has the qualities to make it there.
“I’m a physical guy,” he said. “That’s kind of a perk for myself and just being able to be physical. I’m a hard worker. I learn easily and I study as much film as I can each and every day, just to help the team. I’m not a selfish guy. I do what I can to help the team regardless.”