LINCOLN, Neb. – Just for a second, imagine Tommy Armstrong isn’t the quarterback at Nebraska.
It’s tough, considering he’s been heaving 50-yard bombs and scrambling every which way in the Huskers backfield for four seasons now.
But when the senior leaves after this season, it’s also difficult to imagine what the quarterback position will really look like under head coach Mike Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf because Armstrong isn’t the type of pro-style, drop-back passer they traditionally had at Oregon State.
The natural thought would be that next year, Riley and Langsdorf would start reshaping the Huskers offense into a pass-heavy attack and limit the quarterback run.
But just this past week, Nebraska offered scholarships to two of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the 2018 class.
Which makes you wonder: Are Langsdorf and Riley changing their quarterback philosophy?
“Our biggest thing is we always want to have a guy that can make some throws,” Langsdorf said. “We’ve taken some kind of drop-back styles and really some big-time throwers and they’re all playing in the NFL still. It’s kind of the way we were built more in the past. We’re definitely looking at all types of guys. Height, weight and speed and everything.”
Part of the shift has to do Armstrong, Langsdorf said, but it also has to do with the changing landscape of modern college football. More teams have mobile quarterbacks in college, and that style is also spilling into high school. He sees so many spread teams and more high schools with mobile quarterbacks while recruiting that it’s hard to not take a hard look at different styles.
“I think that for everybody, for us included, I think that’s probably evolved a little bit,” Langsdorf said of recruiting different types of quarterbacks.
He also wants to avoid making Nebraska a system offense with only one type of quarterback.
“It’s like with Tommy; Tommy’s not Eli Manning,” said Langsdorf, who was the New York Giants quarterbacks coach in 2014. “So it’s not going to be the same thing. But you have to evolve and change a little bit and cater to what he does well. And I think you recruit obviously the best guy you can get, but you also want to be pretty diverse about who you have on your team.”
For the foreseeable future, the Huskers likely will stick with drop-back passers.
Next season, Tulane transfer Tanner Lee will be a redshirt junior. Lee is everything Langsdorf and Riley have traditionally looked for in a quarterback. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound signal-caller threw for 3,600 yards and 23 touchdowns during his time at Tulane. The only time he had rushing attempts was when he was sacked.
Lee will battle with Patrick O’Brien, who will be a redshirt freshman next year, for the starting position. O’Brien, who is 6-foot-4, is also a traditional drop-back passer. He threw for 2,895 yards and 32 touchdowns his senior year at San Juan Hills High School. Plus, incoming 4-star QB Tristan Gebbia is a pro-style quarterback who has thrown for almost 10,000 yards during his career at Calabasas (Calif.) High School.
But Langsdorf now also wants to diversify the position a bit.
He likes the idea of having options, now that he knows a quarterback like Armstrong fits into his type of system.
“I think with our guys on the board and the kind of guys we’re recruiting, I think you will see a mixture,” Langsdorf said. “With our history and with Tommy, I think that we’ve evolved, we can go either way.”
Differing quarterback styles won’t change the offense completely, Langsdorf said. He wants a base system that he can tweak to each quarterback.
So next year, with Lee or O’Brien at quarterback, the offense won’t vastly change, and if down the road Nebraska has a dual-threat quarterback and a drop-back passer as options, each one could seamlessly run the offense.
“We’ll probably cater to a little bit different style to Tommy than we would Patrick and Tanner,” Langsdorf said. “We’re not going to throw it all out and start all over, but we have a lot of ways to kind of cater to the type of guy we have.”