Tanner Lee says it's been "a nice, smooth summer" of workouts for the Nebraska football team.

"So many guys were pulling in the same direction," said the junior transfer quarterback, who along with senior inside linebacker Chris Weber and a few others played a prominent role in organizing the on-field workouts.

The players report Saturday for preseason camp and begin drills Sunday morning.

Good team vibes aside, Lee knows many pundits and fans are skeptical that Nebraska can seriously challenge for the Big Ten championship. The Huskers were picked outside most preseason top-25 polls and projected by many writers to play in a second-tier bowl game.

"We had so many seniors graduate and had so many faces that people are used to seeing who won't be out there playing this year," Lee said. "But we have a lot of guys on the team who are ready to fill those roles and step up.

"We have a lot of guys capable of producing just as much as (departed seniors) Brandon Reilly, Jordan Westerkamp and Cethan Carter and all those guys. It's going to be a lot of fun to see."

By the way, Lee said the players do in fact notice preseason skepticism about the Huskers, who are 15-11 in head coach Mike Riley's first two seasons.

"Guys see it, and they use it (as motivation)," he said. "We have a list of goals in our locker room that we want to achieve."

He makes no bones about the fact Nebraska aims to win the Big Ten and reach the four-team College Football Playoff.

Cue the snickers from the peanut gallery. After all, the Huskers were picked to finish third in the Big Ten West Division in the recent cleveland.com poll of 38 media voters from around the conference.

"Are we going to let that happen?" Lee said. "Or are we going to do something about it?"

The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Lee is one of the main reasons for optimism in the Nebraska camp, even though he hasn't started a game for the Huskers. After transferring from Tulane following the 2015 season, he ran NU's scout-team offense last season — duties that he took very seriously while trying to maintain a low profile.

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It was an approach that won over many teammates.

"I really communicated with the defensive staff and made sure I was giving them exactly what they wanted," Lee said. "I developed a relationship with the starting defense, the guys we were going against. That helped gain respect.

"The young guys on scout team back then are playing this year. That helped grow chemistry."

Meanwhile, Lee prepared mentally — taking notes, paying close attention in quarterback meetings, etc. — as if he were going to be Nebraska's starter in that particular week.

"I still have those notes to go back on," he said.

Lee then capped an impressive spring with a strong performance April 15 in the Red-White Game, completing 13 of 19 passes for 190 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.

Granted, he was playing against a defense that was as vanilla as it gets. But he sent a charge through the crowd with a 30-yard touchdown strike to slot receiver JD Spielman. The speedy Spielman angled into his route and gained slight separation on cornerback Dicaprio Bootle. Even so, Lee needed to drop the throw perfectly into a tight window.

He did just that, and many in the stadium were hooked.

Yes, it is Lee's show now. He leads an offense that returns seven players who started at least four games last season, including five linemen. The only two returning skill players are receivers Stanley Morgan Jr. and De'Mornay Pierson-El. And let's face it: The line has a lot to prove after struggling much of last season, in part because of a spate of injuries.

Lee feels he has something to prove as well, even though he's drawn raves throughout the offseason, right up to his performance at the Manning Passing Academy late last month in Thibodaux, Louisiana.

Louisville's Lamar Jackson, UCLA's Josh Rosen and USC's Sam Darnold were among other top quarterbacks on hand.

"I keep hearing about the Manning camp," Lee said earlier this week. "If you're competitive and you're competing against 40 other college quarterbacks, you want to go out there and play well. So, just having that chip on my shoulder and being competitive and kind of seeing how you measure up with other top quarterbacks in the nation, it's something I'm taking pride in."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.


Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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