Tanner Lee

Tanner Lee must sit out the 2016 season, but that won't stop him approaching practices ready to play.

He sounds ready for a culture change. Ready for summer classes. Motivated for organized workouts with his new team. Excited to settle into his downtown apartment. Equipped for attention from fans and media.

Above all, Tanner Lee is ready to compete.

Perhaps that sounds odd. After all, he must sit out the 2016 season — his first as a Nebraska quarterback — because of NCAA transfer rules. Even so, he'll arrive in Lincoln on Tuesday with a blue-collar mentality. He'll be eager to learn intricacies of the offense and "add value" to the team any way he can, he told me Thursday from his hometown of New Orleans.

"I can't take a year off," said Lee, who started the past two seasons at Tulane. "I want to prepare week in and week out like I'm still playing. I don't want to lose that routine. I don't want it all to feel foreign when I get back into it in 2017, when I'm getting ready to play.

"I want to approach everything this season like I'm still trying to win a job, or like I am a starting quarterback. That's how I've always approached things."

The 21-year-old Lee recently finished his spring-semester courses at Tulane. When Nebraska begins strength and conditioning work next week, he will join a group of quarterbacks led by seniors Tommy Armstrong, the projected starter, and Ryker Fyfe, the top backup coming out of spring practice. Sophomore AJ Bush and freshman Patrick O'Brien also are in the fold.

Lee simply looks forward to being part of a team again. He feels fully healthy — an injury to his throwing hand last season apparently has healed well — and seems genuinely eager to run the scout team and test himself against the first-string defense.

"I want to help the team improve and the quarterback room improve and, week in and week out, just try to help Tommy or whoever is playing any time and any way I can," he said.

The 6-foot-4, 205-pound Lee is seemingly in a promising situation. The pro-style offense he engineered at Tulane is similar to Nebraska's system (he left Tulane because he doesn't fit the spread-option offense of new Green Wave head coach Willie Fritz). Lee said the system he operated at Tulane was exactly the same as what the New Orleans Saints use. It was extremely detailed, he said.

He studies Nebraska's playbook and notices the reads and concepts mirror what he already knows. The main difference is the terminology — for instance, using words to call out certain pass protections instead of numbers.

"In a pro-style offense, concepts are concepts," Lee said. "There are variations in the way plays are called and ran. But it's a lot of things that I've been running for years now."

Keep reading for FREE!
Enjoy more articles by signing up or logging in. No credit card required.

Lee feels good about his two years of starting at Tulane. Granted, there were a lot of losses — the Green Wave was 6-18. But he said he played under excellent coaches and learned a lot about the game. He also learned how to push through adversity, becoming a better leader because of it.

Lee in 2014 threw for 1,962 yards and 12 touchdowns with 14 interceptions while completing 55.1 percent of his passes. He then started nine games in 2015, throwing for 1,639 yards and 11 touchdowns with seven interceptions while completing 51.8 percent of his throws.

Regarding the interceptions, Lee admits he sometimes forced throws when Tulane was in comeback mode — a frequent occurrence. He said he had to learn "that you can run into trouble trying to get everything back on one play," a common issue with young quarterbacks.

He feels his experience as a starter at Tulane no doubt was beneficial.

"I think it was invaluable," he said. "Coming to Nebraska, I've been through almost any kind of adversity you could name footballwise — injuries, coaching changes, tough seasons, won games and lost games, played in front of big crowds. There's just a lot you learn along the way.

"I've learned a ton of offense. I've really become comfortable with the game. The things I learned, you can't learn in drills. You can't learn some aspects of the position through anything else except just playing."

I've covered Nebraska football full-time since 1995. Over the years, some quarterbacks embraced the team-spokesman aspect of the position better than others. The ones who embraced it didn't necessarily crave the limelight, but had a sense of duty.

Lee keenly understands that element.

"It's part of being a leader," he said. "It was always important to me to be honest with the media. After the game, win or lose, you have to be able to face the music. Sometimes it's a great thing and sometimes it's not. It's just part of the deal."

He likes the whole quarterback deal, it seems — yes, even life on the scout team.

He mostly just wants to compete. Nothing odd about that.

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.

Load comments