It’s always fun to watch film and evaluate recruits. Now, with the transfer portal, that traditional event went bonkers with players one never thought about playing for UCF getting ready to don a Knights’ uniform. It’s crazy, yet that’s college football in 2021.
Amongst the six defensive transfers for UCF, one particular player truly holds promise from the standpoint of being able to impact the Knights at multiple positions. He’s a versatile player, and one that’s already proven his talents prior to coming to Orlando.
With 2021 spring season defensive totals of 30 tackles (21 solo), one interception, 5 ½ tackles for loss and 1 ½ sacks in a mere four games played, this young football player made his presence felt in a myriad of ways.
Vitals: 5’11”, 205-pounds
Former School: Kennesaw State
There’s not the same available film and notoriety for Armstrong as there might be for players that started their college career by playing for a Division I program. It does make his transition to UCF possibly a little more intriguing however.
Playing for a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) program, this linebacker earned the rare distinction as a three-time (2017, 2019, and spring 2021) AFCA All-American. Regardless of what level one plays at, being a three-time award winner deserves kudos.
He was also a stalwart coming out of high school, playing for Marietta (Ga.) Kell and being a four-year starter. According to Draft Diamonds, a website that previews potential NFL draft picks, Armstrong began to make his mark during his prep playing days by registering 431 tackles and catching eight touchdowns. So, how does one project Armstrong and his strengths into the UCF defense? Here's an overview of his strengths and how he helps UCF:
Within several different schemes Armstrong could excel. He’s proven his production in high school and college and done so consistently. At his size and based on limited film availability, there may not be a true best position for this young man as he’s valuable in different ways.
With the schematics of Defensive Coordinator Travis Williams and Co-Defensive Coordinator David Gibbs, there will be a position “name” provided for what Armstrong plays, but there’s more than just a position for this true football player. That’s what he is overall, a football player.
The two linebackers within the basic scheme are called “Mack” and “Money” and they represent the middle and outside linebacker positions respectively. At Armstrong’s size, he could play Money linebacker, especially when it’s an obvious passing down and more quickness will be needed to defend the pass. He’s also a unique player that could serve in a variety of different roles as linebackers and safeties are very similar in today’s college defenses because of the spread offense.
Defending the Pass - Hybrid Linebacker
Some teams call it the “Star” position, and there are a variety of names for it. Bottom line, fans need to truly understand that the new and truly important position in college football would be the Hybrid linebacker position, as it’s under severe duress for much of a college football game. Here’s why.
Going against a spread, a player such as Armstrong will be asked to line up in the slot and cover a slot wide receiver. Yes, he would likely be going against a player that’s likely faster and quicker. The reason for this assignment derives from keeping defenders on the field with run-stopping ability, as well as being able to play in space to help defend against screens and short passes. That’s where the combination of Coach Williams and Coach Gibbs utilizing their strengths as position coaches -- linebacker and defensive backs -- comes to fruition.
Defensive coaches collaborate with one another about their players in an effort to find the best fits for situations regarding how to defend slot wide receivers and the variety of ways they attack a defense. It’s common to use a player with similar size to Armstrong to play over those slot receivers as there are run-stopping and pass coverage skills combined within his overall skills, but being physical with a slot wide receiver and slowing down the passing game is a major aspect of the Hybrid linebacker.
Looking at college football historically, Armstrong would likely have been a strong safety a mere 15 years ago. With the spread now overrunning college football across Division I and at all levels of collegiate play, the strong position combines skills with an outside linebacker. That’s why quickness and speed take precedence when consistently facing 5’10, 175-pound jackrabbits that can take a bubble screen that’s caught at the line of scrimmage and weave through defenders all the way for an 80 yard touchdown. That’s the challenge of the hybrid position, and Armstrong appears to be a good fit to stop those types of players capable of scoring long touchdowns.
While it makes sense to play Armstrong within a Hybrid linebacker role, it’s also a good bet for him to play in the box, at least in a substitute role. He’s a versatile player and he should be capable of playing multiple positions depending on the scheme UCF plays during a particular game.
Defending the Run - Money Linebacker
Much like with the Hybrid linebacker position, speed holds the key to success. Armstrong’s speed and lateral quickness will be utilized to take on the rushing attacks of teams like Cincinnati and Louisville, teams that attack opponents with zone and run-pass option (RPO) concepts that challenge a defense horizontally. Further, those concepts challenge a linebacker’s instincts and overall intelligence. Another way to describe the obstacle of taking on these types of offenses would be not looking too long at the “eye candy” from all the fakes and motions.
Louisville, prior to the snap, consistently runs jet sweeps and motions in an attempt to confuse a defensive front. A simple false step from an inside linebacker, regardless of defensive scheme, could lead to one of those jackrabbit slot receivers catching a short pass and taking it for a long touchdown or a running back running for a chunk-yardage play. Being a responsible and knowledgeable inside linebacker becomes imperative.
Armstrong’s experience could lend itself to playing time at Money linebacker, although there’s ample talent that’s likely to line up there already. Returning UCF linebackers such as junior Tatum Bethune and fellow junior Jeremiah Jean-Baptiste can and likely will play Money linebacker. Rotating players, substitutions, and filling in for injury will still present opportunities for Armstrong to make his mark there as well, potentially anyway. That’s the point about Armstrong, he’s capable of making an impact in a variety of ways.
Just a Football Player
Armstrong is a versatile football player above all else. Position names and prior accolades aside, Armstrong’s strength as a player is that he finds a way to make an impact. To that end, he’s likely to be a special teams stalwart as well as helping to coordinate the defense from a player’s standpoint and be involved with the defense.
He has a nose for the football, and he will be used however the UCF defensive coaching staff feels he can best make an impact. Armstrong’s role could change from one week to the next, and he could play multiple positions within one game. That’s true value.