Brennan Armstrong, Taylor Lamb learning new Virginia offense together
Brennan Armstrong tested the NFL Draft waters this past winter, and learned from the process what he needs to do to get himself ready for the next level.
His attention this spring is on learning a new offense under new Virginia head coach Tony Elliott and Elliott’s new offensive coordinator, Des Kitchings.
Armstrong, who threw for a school-record 4,449 yards last fall, also has a new quarterbacks coach, Taylor Lamb.
“It’s kind of a roller coaster right now. I feel like we’re going to have good days and bad days. That’s kind of where we’re at,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong will also have to adjust to playing behind a new offensive line. The five starters from a year ago are all gone, four (Ryan Swoboda, who ended up at Central Florida, Olusegun Oluwatimi, who is going to Michigan, Bobby Haskins, who is on his way to Southern Cal, and Joe Bissinger, who is headed to SMU) lost to the transfer portal, the fifth (Chris Glaser) to graduation.
Offensive line coach Garett Tujague doesn’t even have all of the guys who will be expected to compete for playing time in camp this spring, with two transfers, John Paul Flores (Dartmouth) and Mac Hollensteiner (Georgetown), both tackles, finishing up their spring semesters at their current schools.
The lack of warm bodies has caused issues for the offense this spring, according to Elliott, but having Armstrong back as a third-year starter is something for the unit to be able to build around.
One adjustment that Armstrong has had to make is getting used to the speed and tempo that Elliott expects out of his practices.
“Coach E is a bringing a different practice format to us, and a lot of guys have got to get used to how fast the tempo we’re moving around the field is to get things done,” Armstrong said. “Coach E is pretty big on being efficient and effective with the time we have. We don’t get much out here. So, when we do have time out here, we want to efficiently get things done.”
Armstrong has spent a good deal of time throughout the spring semester getting to know Lamb, who comes to Virginia from a stint as offensive coordinator and QB coach at Gardner-Webb.
Lamb was a four-year starter at quarterback at Applachian State, where he passed for 9,786 yards and 90 touchdowns, and added 2,008 yards and 23 TDs on the ground.
“We just clicked right away, honestly,” Armstrong said. “I mean, there really was, I would describe it, he was just like a teammate of mine, that’s kind of how we are with our relationship. And just like as me being a quarterback and being an older quarterback, it’s just, it’s just a relationship, his job is to coach me. He knows more football than I do, he’s been there, done that. He’s there to help me. I’m there to ask questions. I’m there with him to learn.”
Among the things that Armstrong is having to learn is going under center, after four years taking snaps in the shotgun under former offensive coordinator Robert Anae. Elliott said last week that Virginia will likely still use a lot of shotgun, but he wants his quarterbacks to get experience under center to give play-callers the flexibility in different situations.
Elliott and Kitchings are promising more balance to the Virginia offense than what was seen under Anae, whose play-calling was slanted (more than 70 percent) toward the pass.
Armstrong had to shoulder a lot of the responsibility for gaining yards on the ground in Anae’s offense, leading the team in rushing (accounting for sack yardage) each of the past two seasons.
He welcomes the more balanced approach of the new staff.
“What I like about (the new offense), I think it’s just so diverse. I think it gives us more ability to take our shots, take what the defense gives us,” Armstrong said. “I have the ability to really control and manage the game, and Coach Kitchings, I think that’s another thing we developed just coaching-wise is, me and Coach Kitchings just being around each other, kind of getting the offense, what he’s thinking, I think that’s really developed pretty quickly and pretty well.
“Yeah, overall, I mean, it’s just a fun, unique offense, I think, that just allows you to practice a lot of unique skill sets that you really need to have,” Armstrong said.
Lamb praised Armstrong for his work in the offseason, which has helped Lamb and Kitchings learn more about what will work with Armstrong at the controls.
“If he likes out-break routes, let’s do out-break routes. You know, if he likes this playlist, or this play, you know, it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter what we like, as coaches, right? If the trigger man does not like it, it’s probably not going to work. So, let’s find things that he likes, that he’s good at, and let’s get the best we can out of that,” Lamb said.
“He’s been in the meetings with us before spring ball, but just picking that up and then actually coming out here and showing us that he’s picked it up well, right. Because we can sit in meeting rooms, and we can draw up plays, and he can get it right on the board, but actually bullets flying, coming out here and picking it up, getting the ball out and being accurate.
“We talk we talk a whole bunch about Brennan being, we don’t need LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, we need Brennan to be Rajon Rondo, Steve Nash, right, get it to our guys in space. How quickly can we get out to (Dontayvion) Wicks, to Lavel (Davis), in space, where they can make plays, where they can be the big-time guys. So, we’re doing that, and it’s been surprising to me how quickly he gets the ball out, and how quickly he’s picked it up on the field,” Lamb said.
In essence, it’s all about, and Lamb used these exact words to describe the focus for the offensive brain trust this spring: “at the end of the day, let Brennan be Brennan.”
To Armstrong, it’s about learning something new, and recognizing that learning something new can make you uncomfortable, and that’s alright.
“Just being uncomfortable as a fifth-year, I think that’s something that just is going to allow me to grow and improve in anything,” Armstrong said. “I’m uncomfortable right now with the new offense, and that makes me be up in the in the film room all the time working, and I’m more than happy to do that. But it’s just like, I think just that aspect of being uncomfortable at such a later time in my career here, it is only going to make me better in the long run. And yeah, I really couldn’t ask for much more than kind of just trying to embrace it and continue to grow and try to make our offense better.
Story by Chris Graham