Ira Armstead back and ready for Year 2 as Virginia’s second Slash

Ira Armstead
Iraken Armstead gets to the corner on a 4-yard TD run at Wake Forest. Photo courtesy UVA Athletics.

Ira Armstead found himself getting serious action as a true freshman in Virginia offensive coordinator Robert Anae’s innovative wildcat schemes.

Armstead, a 6’3”, 210-pound January enrollee who had played quarterback and safety at Adams High School (South Bend, Ind.), and had thrown for 1.078 yards and ran for another 610 yards as a senior, got snaps at QB and at wideout in Virginia’s first four games, an experience that he said was “really, really fun.”

“It’s kind of like backyard football, just like being at schoolyard playing around all you want,” Armstead said this week. “You want to play QB this drive, you want to play receiver, whatever. So yeah, it was really, really fun. And just me and Keytaon (Thompson) just talking on the sideline, you know, motivating each other, getting each other going. I leaned on him pretty heavily during the season.”

Armstead caught a pass in the 38-20 season-opening win over Duke, then got two snaps, one at wideout, one in the backfield, in the 41-23 loss at Clemson in Week 2.

Then in the Week 4 loss at Wake Forest on Oct. 17, Armstead got 13 snaps, completing one pass for nine yards, and gaining 46 yards on six carries on the ground.

That was the week that Virginia had to make a go of it without starting quarterback Brennan Armstrong, and Anae cobbled together a QB rotation of Armstead, Thompson and Lindell Stone, and, well, it wasn’t the offense’s fault that the ‘Hoos came up short.

UVA put up 420 yards of total offense in the Wake game, and with Armstrong returning for the Cavaliers’ next game, at Miami, Anae continued with the three-QB rotation, with Armstrong, Armstead and Thompson this time.

The offense put up good numbers in the 19-14 loss – 366 yards, including 181 on the ground, with the quarterbacks responsible for 137 toward that total.

Armstead had 22 yards on four carries before leaving the game with a lower-body injury that would ultimately end his freshman season prematurely.

After an offseason rehabbing, Armstead is back to full speed physically, with the challenge this spring being not anything physical, but rather getting up to speed with the offense after missing out on spring practice last spring, then missing the second half of the season with the injury, surgery and rehab.

Armstead acknowledges that he has a steeper learning curve than he’d anticipated when he enrolled in school a semester early.

“Kind of being back now is kind of like being a first-year again, if that makes sense. So yeah, just missing that spring was pretty tough,” Armstead said.

First year should have been spring practice, conditioning and drills in the summer, then a full fall camp. Instead, it was a lot of Zoom with quarterbacks coach Jason Beck, and then a crash course in camp.

“He has a lot of development as a quarterback with both losing spring last year and then with injury during the season. He feels somewhere more like a first year with just training and developing at the quarterback spot. And right now, that’s our major, major emphasis,” said Beck, who sees Armstead being able to contribute again in 2021 in the slash role alongside Thompson – getting snaps again at QB in the wildcat, and lining up in the backfield and at the three wideout positions.

“Right now everything’s just in developing him with understanding the offense, anticipating and reading the defense and making great decisions from the quarterback spot. I’m so excited about his development and his future in both ways as a quarterback and as that slash guy,” Beck said.

It’s hard enough learning the QB position at the college level, but Armstead doesn’t see having to learn quarterback, running back and wideout as a challenge.

“I just told myself to just keep calm, stay confident, and at the end of the day, it’s just football. I’ve been doing this since I was a kid. So just keeping that mentality, everything played out pretty smooth. Did a good job, could have done better, but you know, it was all good,” Armstead said.

It helps having a good relationship with Armstrong and Thompson, who Armstead said are “like big brothers to me.”

“Keytaon, you know, is the funny guy, Brennan being like the serious one,” Armstead said. “But yeah, like with Brennan, just watching his game and picking up on certain keys from him, like leadership, the way he communicates with guys, things like that. And Keytaon, just being so versatile as well, which I kind of was in the same position last year, so me and him talking and going over things just like that. But yeah, those two guys were really just very helpful for me, and helped my game as well.”

Story by Chris Graham


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