With Taylor Martinez gone, the Huskers have switched footballs in practice back to a slimmer, easier to grip “rifle” football, Tommy Armstrong said Monday after football practice.
Last year, Nebraska played with smoother, rounder football that Martinez preferred, but Armstrong said the Huskers were prohibited from switching practice balls in the middle of the season. Armstrong said he likes the new footballs that equipment manager Jay Terry brought in for 2014.
“Last year they were kind of bulky and stuff like that, it was kind of hard to grip the balls and stuff like that,” he said.
Armstrong added that the receivers didn’t like the switch at first, but have grown to like them. As for Armstrong, he’s working on decision-making now that his comfort level in the offense has increased.
“Me being out there making better decisions, putting my teammates in the best possible plays that they can be in is the main thing I need to focus on this year,” he said Monday.
With a more seasoned defense than last year’s group, Armstrong said it’s been a challenge going against the well-prepared defense led by Josh Mitchell, Randy Gregory and LeRoy Alexander among other returning starters. Armstrong said offensive coordinator Tim Beck actually told Josh Mitchell to try getting into the heads of the offense.
“That’s a good thing,” Armstrong said. “They go out and they holler and hoot and all this stuff when we scrimmage…They make us better.”
Mitchell likes to get in a late strip out of bounds or a push after the play ends, Armstrong said. “Coach Beck tells them to get us mad every once in a while,” he said. “I like it about our defense. Our defense got a little swag this year.”
Mitchell picked off one of Armstrong’s passes Monday, and let him know about it. Armstrong usually never fails to remind Mitchell when the offense scores in scrimmages though, he said.
“After we go down and score, I like to exchange words with him every once in a while.”
Wide receiver Taariq Allen took his share of snaps with the starters Monday, after returning from a 2012 knee injury that lingered into 2013. Allen received the training room returner award, and says he’s more comfortable in the offense with Armstrong after a full winter of 7-on-7s.
“We did 7-on-7s in the offseason, and it just kind of segued into the spring,” Allen said. “We already kind of have somewhat of a chemistry.”
Most of Allen’s work has come on the perimeter, where he says he gets a chance to be more aggressive and physical.
“I think he’s just got over the hill this past offseason,” Armstrong said of Allen. “This year he’s going out there and he’s been a leader, and that’s what we need. We need a bunch of leaders on offense. We’ve got a bunch of young guys.”
Allen said getting back into the flow of the offense has been helped by Armstrong’s consistency during the offseason, a pleasant change from worrying about him playing as the starter or the No. 2 guy.
“He feels more comfortable, and we feel more comfortable having somebody kind of established,” Allen said.
For Armstrong, he said Allen is a total package receiver who isn’t selfish.
“He’s gotten bigger and he blocks downfield,” he said. “That’s the main thing you really like about receivers.”
Junior receiver Sam Burtch has also seen his share of snaps with the 1s after getting significant snaps in 2013. Burtch said he won’t play the A receiver position anymore – a spot designated for speed guys – but he’ll play more of an outside 1-on-1 role that plays better to his skill set at 200 pounds.
“Last year I had to know all the position; that’s what got me on the field,” he said.
After Nebraska, Burtch said he sees himself as a coach in future; hopefully as an NFL intern out of college. He said receivers coach Rich Fisher has talked to him about sticking around Nebraska in a graduate assistant role but that would require more school (with no pay).
“I just want to coach,” Burtch said. “As far as assistant coach, OC, head coach, obviously the higher the position the better. I don’t want to limit myself.”