Nebraska vs. Iowa, 11/24/17

Nebraska wide receiver Stanley Morgan and quarterback Tanner Lee (13) celebrate a second-quarter score against Iowa Nov. 24 at Memorial Stadium.

Let's do this.

1. Understanding that Scott Frost is a bottom-line, straight-shooting type of individual you can imagine how the new Nebraska football coach’s first extensive conversation with senior-to-be Tanner Lee might unfold.

“Tanner, you’re a veteran player and we value your experience and all you’ve done for the program. But the quarterback competition is wide open. There will be no guarantees for anyone.”

Lee will turn 23 in mid-February. He obviously is not a great fit for Frost’s no-huddle spread offense. Maybe Frost will consider tailoring his system to better fit Lee. But if not, Lee remaining at Nebraska for the 2018 season obviously would be risky for him.

That’s right, no guarantees.

So, Lee could choose to enter the NFL Draft. Underclassmen have until Jan. 15 to file declaration papers with the NFL. But there obviously are no guarantees for Lee when it comes to the NFL, either.

“Tanner will only be successful in the NFL if he goes to a great system. Outside of that, he won’t make it,” said Ralph Brown, the Nebraska Hall of Fame cornerback who played 10 years in the NFL (2000-09).

From 2007-09, as a member of the Arizona Cardinals, Brown enjoyed long talks with then-Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner. Brown wanted to understand why quarterbacks attacked him in certain ways, and why they attacked the Cardinal defense in certain ways.

"I just started to become fascinated with the quarterback position," Brown told me recently week from his home in Southern California.

Brown’s assessment of Lee surprised me, but only to a certain extent.

“I think he probably could make it as a backup, but somebody has to like him because in the NFL, it’s all about coaches liking you,” Brown said. “For most positions, if coaches like you, you stick around.”

I agree with Ralph that Lee might make it in the NFL as a backup, in part because there is a dearth of good backups in the league. I also agree with Brown that Lee is nowhere near ready to become a difference-making quarterback at the next level. You don’t have to be Bill Belichick to see Lee’s deficiencies. His decision-making with the ball would be an immediate concern.

On the other hand, Lee’s strong right arm, size (6-4, 220) and overall maturity -- he stays on an even keel -- surely will be intriguing to NFL teams, even with his so-so statistics in 2017.

Start with Nebraska’s 4-8 record. Nobody envisioned such a profound slide in Mike Riley’s program, especially considering Riley finally had a pro-style quarterback to fit his system. But Lee was inconsistent, finishing 246-for-428 passing (57.4 percent) for 3,143 yards and 23 touchdowns -- with 16 interceptions.

His efficiency rating of 129.4 ranks sixth in the Big Ten, and we’re not talking about an all-star cast of NFL-level quarterbacks. J.T. Barrett led the way at 162.0 followed by Trace McSorley (153.6), Alex Hornibrook (146.0), David Blough (137.8) and Nate Stanley (135.4).

Brown described Lee as a “middle-of-the-pack” type player -- so, again, no guarantees.

“You’re going to deal with guys (in the draft) from small schools that I’ve never heard of, that you’ve never heard of, who just emerge on teams and you’re like, ‘Wow, this guy is pretty good, we overlooked him,” Brown said. “That’s what I mean by Lee being in the middle of the pack.”

After what's been an uneven college career, I’m guessing all Lee wants is a chance in the NFL, and that he’ll take that chance this coming season.

2. New Nebraska running backs coach Ryan Held’s appearance Tuesday on the Husker Sports Network’s “Sports Nightly” radio program seemed to genuinely enthuse many Husker fans. His excitement about his opportunity in Lincoln shined through in the interview. His gratitude seems as real as a blade of grass.

“We’ll just chip away at the rock every day – improve 2 percent each day – and I think we’ll do that,” the 43-year-old former Nebraska walk-on said during the broadcast. “We’re going to get this thing back to where it needs to be. It’s not just going to happen overnight, but we’re all in to get it right, and I’m excited to go through the process of turning this thing back to championships.”

Close your eyes and imagine Nebraska players doing what I just saw Alabama players doing (via the magic of ESPN). That is, getting off a plane in New Orleans, where they will begin preparations for the national CFP semifinal game in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's night.

Imagine the excitement in our neck of the woods if Nebraska were to ever return to that realm.

Listening to Held’s passion, it actually seems possible.

3. Greg Austin, the new Nebraska offensive line coach, will appear on “Sports Nightly” at 6:25 p.m. today. I’m guessing you’ll hear passion in his voice, as was the case with Held. After all, Austin played the game with passion and ferocity, earning honorable-mention All-Big 12 honors for the Huskers’ 2006 team that reached the Big 12 Championship Game.

Zac Taylor was the quarterback for that team. He told me recently that Austin is “legitimately one of the toughest people I know.” Austin played through knee problems in college, making 18 career starts at offensive guard.

“He shouldn’t have been playing on those knees but wouldn’t hear it,” Taylor said.

Maybe Austin can inject toughness into a unit that could use a boost in that area – a mega-boost.

4. Speaking of Zac Taylor, here’s a fun fact: His younger brother, 29-year-old Press Taylor, works for the Philadelphia Eagles as an assistant quarterbacks and quality control coach. He’s in his fifth season with the franchise.

Which means the brothers could square off at some point in the NFC playoffs, as Zac Taylor is an assistant receivers coach for the Los Angeles Rams.

The Eagles are 13-2, the Rams 11-4.

Philly topped L.A. 43-35 on Dec. 10, the game in which Carson Wentz injured his knee.

Somehow I never knew about Press Taylor, even though he guided Butler (Kansas) Community College to back-to-back NJCAA national championships as the team’s starting quarterback. He then lettered in two seasons at Marshall.

5. Speaking of tough-minded offensive linemen, a quick shout-out to Richie Incognito, who last week was selected to the AFC Pro Bowl squad for the third consecutive year.

I always thought if Incognito put everything together, on and off the field, he had the talent and intelligence -- don't underestimate the intelligence part -- to be an NFL Hall of Famer.

He hasn't risen to a Hall-of-Fame level of play, held back by off-field issues -- including a bullying scandal in Miami that led to his temporary banishment from the league in 2013-14.  But at age 34, he’s now thriving at a level many folks anticipated when he played for Nebraska in 2002-03, even though the anger issues (and personal foul penalties) Husker fans witnessed continued into his NFL career.

Those days apparently are behind him.

This from the Rochester (New York) Democrat and Chronicle: The Bills haven’t yet made the playoffs with Incognito on the team, but he has been a tremendous asset both on the field with his Pro Bowl-level performance, and as a trusted veteran leader in the locker room, a player that other players gravitate toward and rely on.

Think about that last line for a moment. That’s a story of human growth.

For the full Democrat and Chronicle article, click right here.

6. I met Dick Enberg several years ago at a function in Lincoln. He was as gracious and classy as you would predict based on listening to his broadcasts. RIP to an American icon.

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


Husker columnist

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

Load comments