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Eric Lee Jr.

Nebraska's Eric Lee Jr., now a third-year sophomore, is getting coaches' attention this spring with his play at cornerback.

It wasn't a now-or-never situation necessarily, but Eric Lee Jr. showed up to the first Husker practice of this spring determined 2017 was going to be different.

Not maybe different. Definitely different.

"I just came in with that mindset that I'm playing this year and that there's nothing that's going to stop me from doing that," Lee said.

He has taken that mentality from practice to practice, and now after 13 of those practices, the third-year sophomore cornerback most assuredly has the attention of his Husker coaches.

It's the first spring, NU coach Mike Riley said this past week, where Lee has really appeared on his radar.

Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco is similarly seeing the signs of someone who can help this Nebraska defense in some form this fall.

"Eric Lee is having a really nice spring," Diaco said after Tuesday's practice. "He's working himself into a position where he doesn't look out of place with a group. He's productive, he's got good football intelligence and he’s showing some tangible and intangible traits that we covet.

"So we're trying to find a role for him and see if he can rise to the occasion."

The 6-foot, 200-pound Lee arrived in Lincoln with an impressive high school resume, the No. 1-ranked player in the state of Colorado in the class of 2015, according to Rivals.com. He was first-team all-state for two years at Valor Christian High School.

In analyzing his first two years in Lincoln, however, Lee admitted maybe he didn't quite have the mental edge he needed when he joined the Husker program.

"Just kind of thought it'd be kind of a cakewalk and it'd be given to me," Lee said. "Obviously that wasn't, as it was shown."

Different thinking now. Different results.

He's been working as the second boundary corner behind true sophomore Lamar Jackson, who came here with his own heavy fanfare as a recruit.

They're after the same thing maybe, but they're also growing together in the position. And given Joshua Kalu's move from corner to safety, how Jackson and Lee develop is of the utmost significance to this Husker defense.

"In film we learn off each other's mistakes," Lee said. "We know as soon as we get off the field someone has something to say to each other — obviously from a positive coaching perspective. Because we both want to see each other succeed."

He's also learned what to expect from his new cornerbacks coach Donté Williams, who surprised them all that first practice when he showed up wearing receivers' gloves and cleats like he was competing himself.

Lee got used to it quickly enough, and feels there's a good line of communication with his new coach.

Good enough that he can joke, "It's funny. You watch him trying to do the drills and then two plays later he's gassed."

But the business of getting better is a serious one, and Lee appreciates how Williams analyzes all the details closely.

"He's going to find each and every little thing, because he knows where we want to go after this," Lee said.

Lee could also be an option in Nebraska's nickel and dime packages. That he's being considered there in itself shows the trust he may be starting to build in coaches. He was not involved in any of those scheme plans the past two years.

Those jobs are all up for grabs at this point in the offseason, but Lee has been getting opportunities as a nickel back. Some others receiving looks in those defensive sub-packages are Kieron Williams and Antonio Reed.

Playing with a confident mindset, Lee knows he has definitely had his hands on more passes than a year ago.

During Saturday's scrimmage, he timed a pass breakup perfectly, nearly picking off the throw while doing so. His knowledge of the defense, he believes, is much improved.

"At first I just focused on knowing my part, but once you know everyone else's part, it slows the game down a tremendous amount," he said.

That's another way of saying he's playing faster. It was the mind that had to get right first, though.

"It's kind of bettered me," Lee said. "I bring a positive attitude to practice every day."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7439 or bchristopherson@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

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