This would have been the spring of Brennan Armstrong
Brennan Armstrong would be getting reps, working with offensive coordinator Robert Anae and quarterbacks coach Jason Beck on the tweaks to the Virginia offense that would make it his, building rapport with his receivers, learning to step up and be a team leader.
All of that will have to happen in training camp now.
In the here and now, Armstrong is back home in Ohio, lifting weights in the garage of a neighbor, going on long bike rides, throwing to former high-school teammates.
“With the receivers coming in, guys leaving, guys stepping up, and me stepping up into the QB position, (spring) would have been huge,” Armstrong said. “It’s different from just, like, going out and throwing with the guys and actually getting like live reps with, you know, defense out there. And just training, connection, chemistry building. Yeah, it sucks, but no, just going to work with what we got and going forward.”
Armstrong, rated a four-star recruit by ESPN.com, was a four-year starter at Shelby High School, where he threw for 1,933 yards and 30 touchdowns and added 1,105 yards and 22 touchdowns on the ground as a senior in 2017.
He graduated a semester early to enroll at UVA for the spring semester in 2018, allowing him to participate in spring practice, where he earned the #2 spot on the depth chart behind Bryce Perkins.
Armstrong appeared in four games as a true freshman, but was able to maintain his redshirt. He then appeared in seven games as a redshirt freshman in 2019, so though he’s missing out on spring practice this year, you’re still talking about a redshirt sophomore who has had two springs, two training camps, snaps in 11 live games and a 2019 postseason that included game preps for the ACC Championship Game and the Orange Bowl.
“Without those, it’s hard now, but I would have felt much different. We basically got a modified spring in that context, and Brennan got lots of work in, and plenty of repetition,” UVA coach Bronco Mendenhall said.
Even with all the work he has been able to get in, though, Mendenhall concedes that the spring was going to be important for Armstrong, and that his team now heads into the fall with “unknowns that we surely would like to have known before the season.”
“The volatility of the position we know is disproportionate to any other on the field,” Mendenhall said. “We probably will have to reconsider what fall camp might look like at that position specifically, knowing that there are limitations to what we can do between there and now compliance-wise.”
Armstrong feels his time as Perkins’ understudy will be a plus.
The biggest thing he picked up from Perkins was game prep, and it helped that he was the QB2, meaning Armstrong had to be ready to step in on a moment’s notice.
“My mindset is a lot different. I always prepared, when Bryce was here, I was prepared to be the guy, if something happened, if nothing happened, I was always preparing to be the guy,” Armstrong said. “Now that I am, like, I mean, I’m stepping into a role where I’m the guy, just, a little bit has changed in the sense of, like, the role stepping in and being more of a leader. Other than that, I mean, I’m preparing. I’m doing what I do, like I’d always done.”
What the offense will look like with Armstrong as the guy remains to be seen.
Not even Armstrong has insight into what tweaks Anae and Beck have in store.
“That’s still to be found out,” Armstrong said. “We would have found that out a little bit more in spring ball. Um, you know, we still have our offense. I’m not sure if they’re going to tweak anything just more towards my style. We’ll see. I’m actually really excited to see how it works.”
The offense loses, in addition to Perkins (3,530 yards, 22 TDs passing; 769 yards and 11 TDs on the ground), its top two receivers, Joe Reed (77 catches, 679 yards, 7 TDs) and Hasise Dubois (75 catches, 1,062 yards, 6 TDs).
Terrell Jana (73 catches, 878 yards, 3 TDs) is back, and the talented receivers room also features Billy Kemp (35 catches, 289 yards, 1 TD), Tavares Kelly (14 catches, 152 yards, 1 TD) and Dontayvion Wicks (3 catches, 61 yards, 1 TD), a four-star 247Sports.com recruit in the Class of 2019 who Armstrong thinks could be “the guy” in 2020.
So, no reps, no idea what the offense will look like, no time building chemistry with his wideouts, and no opportunity for Armstrong to work on becoming a team leader.
Linebacker Charles Snowden said Armstrong isn’t “an overly vocal guy,” but Armstrong said that’s because he was “the young kid coming in.”
“I grew up just always doing the work, grinding through everything. That’s when I came in, grinding, didn’t have much to say,” he said. “And now, yeah, once I stepped into that role, obviously, I’ll talk more. I think it’s my job to talk more. It will happen. I don’t want to force things. I don’t like to force things on my other guys or anything like that. It just needs to come naturally. If things need to be said, I’ll say them, but other than that, I’m just going to keep grinding, just send a good example.”
Perkins, talking with reporters last week, is confident that Armstrong will be ready to lead.
“These last two years, he’s been itching to get in,” Perkins said. “One thing about Brennan, there’s one moment where he didn’t practice for about two weeks, and he came back after the two weeks, and he was killing guys. He’s a ballplayer, for sure. Everything just comes natural for him. Even without spring ball, I think he’ll be super prepared and ready to take the field.
“His feel for the game, he has the best feel I’ve seen in a while,” Perkins said. “He just fills areas and fills spaces so well, that he’ll throw a ball, and it’s like, how did he do that? He has a live arm, and his feel for the game is through the roof.”
Bryce Hall, a projected first-round draft pick at cornerback, vouches for Armstrong in terms of feel for the game, and talent.
“When plays break down, he can make things happen with his feet, and that’s a different threat that a mobile quarterback brings, is the ability to extend plays with their legs and athleticism,” Hall said.
And Snowden, who like Hall has seen what Armstrong can do in practice the past two years, is a believer in the new QB1 as well.
“Brennan Armstrong is as crafty as they come,” Snowden said. “He knows who he is. I mean, he’s obviously not as explosive as Perk, but he knows that, and he’s okay with that. He’s still a gifted runner, gifted thrower.
“He’s shown great leadership qualities thus far. The meetings we have, he’s always the first one up there. I mean, he’s not overly vocal guy, but he talks when he needs to. Guys respect him. And I think he’s a good football player, and I think he’ll be able to lead this team,” Snowden said.
As tough as it is having to miss the spring, Mendenhall feels Armstrong will be up to the task.
“I like his mindset. He’s a player that thinks he can make every play. Very confident, very, very competitive,” Mendenhall said. “He has high standards for himself, and is actually much better when he’s playing the game than he is in the film room or even in the locker room. He’s just one of those players who, under duress, seems to have the game slow down rather than speed up. If you have a choice, that’s where you’d like to have players excel.”
Story by Chris Graham