Tommy Armstrong has had an interesting six months.
The Nebraska quarterback was forced to step up in 2013 after former starter Taylor Martinez was sidelined with an injury. As a redshirt freshman, Armstrong appeared in nine games and started eight.
It was a bumpy road, though.
Martinez had been hyped before the 2013 season, which made Armstrong's arrival a bittersweet one. Some fans were excited at the prospect of a new quarterback. Others were concerned with Armstrong's consistency.
After all, despite his nine touchdowns, Armstrong had eight interceptions. Nerves were partially to blame. It didn't help when Ron Kellogg III would share playing time with Armstrong, making it difficult for him to play through adversity and mistakes.
By the end of the 2013 regular season, Armstrong's fate was in question. But the young quarterback changed the conversation after Nebraska's bowl victory over Georgia. As ESPN.com's Mitch Sherman noted, Kenny Bell was especially proud of Armstrong after that victory.
I love Tommy. I’m all in with Tommy. I’ve got nothing but faith in the kid. What he showed me against Georgia, he might not make every perfect read or every perfect play, but the kid will compete. That’s what I care about. That’s most important to me -- guys who genuinely care about this team and compete with everything they have. That’s what I love and respect about Tommy.
Despite that win and newfound team confidence, Armstrong knows he's back in a competition for the starting spot. With Johnny Stanton right on his heels and Jamal Turner taking snaps, Armstrong can't rest anytime soon.
But after just a few spring practices, he's making a strong case to not just become Nebraska's most improved player, but the Big Ten's.
For Armstrong, his improvement has been about more than just his performance on the field. It's how he leads both on and off of it. That's ultimately what will accelerate him to be a top quarterback in the conference.
His team is clearly on his side. In fact, Ameer Abdullah said that Armstrong was a "huge" factor" in his decision to stay at Nebraska for his senior year.
"He's probably one of the most competitive guys on our team, and that's what you want out of your quarterback, Abullah said, per 247Sports.com's Michael Bruntz. "You want a guy who is hungry to get better, a guy who wants everybody to up their level to get better.”
From the looks of it at practice, that's exactly what Armstrong is aiming to do.
The confidence and hunger Tommy Armstrong Jr brings to the 2014 will be through the roof.. Last season is huge for the Huskers QB position.— Ralph D. Brown II (@RalphDBrown) March 6, 2014
His development as a player was a rocky one in 2013. Fans watched as Armstrong struggled at times to become comfortable in his position as the quarterback. The mistakes could be brushed off as rookie moves.
But that's not the case anymore. Armstrong looks more in control on the field as he works out during Nebraska's spring practice. That confidence is what makes him appear as more of a leader every single day.
“We need him to be a leader,” Abdullah told ESPN.com's Sherman. “All the guys look up to him, because, let’s face it, he touches the ball every play.”
And Stanton is providing a good level of competition for Armstrong. As he works to improve his leadership skills, Stanton is pushing the now-veteran quarterback to be the best he can be on the field.
There's an advantage to that, too.
The 2013 season felt like a big learning opportunity for Armstrong. There were moments where he shined and fans could see the potential. There were also bumps in the road, but Armstrong often overcame.
As spring practice rolls on, Armstrong continues to show that as his leadership skills strengthen, he is on track to becoming the Big Ten's most improved player. It may not mean his time on the field will be error-free, but if everything goes as planned, he'll make a big jump before the 2014 season begins.
With the confidence around him and his hard work on the field, Armstrong is guaranteeing that all eyes will be on him next season.