Foster Farms Bowl: The NFL quarterbacks Tommy Armstrong studies (and why)

Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong carries the ball in the fourth quarter against Northwestern.

The Tuesday afternoon conversation began with a simple question about the spin move that quarterback Tommy Armstrong has often used to slip away from approaching pass rushers.

Where'd it come from?

Said Armstrong: “I don't know. I used to do it a lot on Randy (Gregory). He used to hate it. Sometimes it's bad. But I kind of try to put myself in a right position to use it.”

There is one NFL player who's pretty good at pirouetting his way out of trouble, too, you know. Seattle's Russell Wilson. He's almost patented the move.

One mention of Wilson's pocket escape tactics Tuesday — and Armstrong got fired up. He was seated in a conference room at a roundtable, but his mind was seemingly elsewhere — images of the elusive Wilson started cycling through his brain.

Armstrong says he's always enjoyed Wilson's game. There are other guys he likes watching, too (his mentor Brett Favre, another short-but-dominant QB in Drew Brees and the dynamic Cam Newton).

But it's Wilson's strengths that relate well to Armstrong's preferred style. The Seattle superstar has a knack for extending plays and fracturing a defensive scheme. Not to mention that Wilson's listed at 5-foot-11. Armstrong, at 6-foot-1, knows what it's like to be shorter than all your offensive linemen.

When offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf came on board last offseason, he told Armstrong to study Wilson as much as possible.

Why?

“I've watched a bunch of his games, where he gets away from pressure,” Armstrong said. “He steps up in the pocket a lot. Sometimes he steps up in the pocket and he takes off. That's one guy that Coach Langs always told me to watch. Watch how he gets away from pressure — but he never takes a hit. You never see that guy take a hit. He may run, but he'll slide or he'll run out of bounds.”

What Armstrong also sees from the former Wisconsin product is a mobile quarterback who has fit his skillset into the more-complex NFL schematic structure. (A similar transition that Armstrong himself is trying to make.)

Cam Newton did it, too. Said Armstrong: “He kind of progressed into the pro style and nobody really thought that he could do the same thing that he did at Auburn.”

Drew Brees, orchestrating Purdue's spread offense more than a decade ago, made that jump as well — but the 36-year-old who's thrown for 4,000 yards in 10 straight seasons has never been lauded much for his running ability. What Armstrong appreciates about the 6-foot Brees is that he's willing to hang in the pocket until a receiver sprints open.

“Sometimes he has that, you know, the jittery feet. But he's always on his toes,” Armstrong said. “The one thing I try to kind of look at is how he keeps his chin up in the pocket. It's like he really can't see. But he's always looking up. He always finds that window, to slide in the pocket.”

Wilson, Newton, Brees. Armstrong's not the only one analyzing these guys or trying to apply some of their abilities to his own game. But he's setting his sights high.

He knows he has plenty of room to grow. He talked about it with reporters this past week.

He concluded the chat Tuesday with a similar pledge...

“I think it's all about balance. That's what I'm trying to focus on this offseason,” Armstrong said. “Being balanced. When you're off balance, that's when your ball tends to sail or die down on you. … Just watching those (NFL) guys, they may not always have the best footwork in the world but the one thing is they're balanced when they throw the ball. When they're backing up or they have a three-step drop, they plant and get ready to throw. They always find themselves back underneath themselves and are able to deliver the ball.”

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