NFL Draft Roundtable: Making Sense of a Lean Year for Nebraska
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Hot Reads: Lee Has the ‘Opportunity of a Lifetime’ at Senior Bowl

January 24, 2018

Former Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee is in Mobile, Alabama, this week for the Senior Bowl, part of the annual NFL Draft inspection period where no detail is too small and a quarterback’s hands can’t be big enough. Lee did just fine with the latter, thank you very much.

This will be an interesting week for Lee, who was added as a replacement for Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph. On the one hand, look at some of the names on that list. Lee starts out under the radar alongside names like Mayfield, Rudolph and Allen, and the big-time underclassmen (namely UCLA’s Josh Rosen and USC’s Sam Darnold) aren’t participating because, well, this is the Senior Bowl.

On the other hand, this is the sort of environment in which Lee thrives. He was a Manning Passing Academy wunderkind before he was ever Tulane’s starter. After two years with the Green Wave, underwhelming numbers and a coaching change, the unique cycle of Lee started again at Nebraska. His potential dazzled pro scouts, he was great on the Huskers’ scout team during the year he had to sit out and finally he would have a chance behind a seemingly competent offensive line in Lincoln. That produced only palatable numbers as the Huskers sunk to 4-8 and Lee lost another coach, faced another scheme switch.

So now he’s back to the, I don’t even know what to call it, offseason circuit? Maybe Houston head coach Bill O’Brien, who is also coaching the South team in the Senior Bowl, put it best:

“I told these guys today I have a 12-year-old son Michael at home who could run these plays,” O’Brien said after the first team meeting. “I mean we’re not reinventing the wheel. You can only be in certain formations. This is not a scheme fest. This is an evaluation fest. This is a chance for these guys to go out and compete. You really don’t want them thinking too much, and if they are, that might tell you something about them.”

That’s the term. Lee is good in an “evaluation fest” setting, but after this run up to the Draft there are no more of those left. Eventually the physical ability has to translate into on-field production and, more importantly, wins.

It will be interesting to watch in the weeks to come if Lee’s pro-ready arm gives him another shot to show it’s not all practice-field promise. So far it seems like Lee is doing what Lee does in these situations.

Phil Savage, executive director of the Senior Bowl, called it the “opportunity of a lifetime” for Lee. “I met Tanner down at the Manning Academy when he was at Tulane and then at Nebraska, he can really spin the football,” Savage said.

Of course that was never in question. Neither should be Lee’s ability to fill that other important quarterback role as the face of the team. As Husker fans saw throughout a difficult 2017, Lee always showed up to answer questions and maintained a steady demeanor throughout.

That will help during the poking and prodding to come. So might his sort of strange trajectory. The decision to transfer mid-career couldn’t have been easy, but Lee’s determination to go where the pro offenses were might help him now.

"The concepts that I learn this week to run in the game, I feel like I've learned at either Tulane or Nebraska, so I'm extremely comfortable with everything we're running this week," Lee told the New Orleans Advocate. "It's just going to be that much easier to relax and play ball when you're comfortable with the playbook."

Is it strange that Lee spent five years in college football and it doesn’t really feel like we ever really saw the relaxed, just-playing-ball version of a guy with prototypical NFL size and skills? I think it is, and it’s why I’m hoping he finally gets that shot.

The Grab Bag

  • ESPN's Adam Rittenberg offers a handy recap of all of the coordinator changes so far.
  • Here's a more general set of notes from the first day of Senior Bowl practices.
  • This is insane, but if you really enjoy anticipation here's a list of really great nonconference games on tap all the way through 2030.
  • Maryland hired former LSU offensive coordinator Matt Canada.

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