Fans don’t often get a chance to hear from players during the offseason, but Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee took the time to join Chris Schmidt and T.J. Henning on Hail Varsity Radio on Thursday.
Lee touched on offseason workouts, the Manning Passing Academy, teammates that have stood out to him so far and more.
The transfer from Tulane opened up by giving some insight into what the summer schedule looks like for the football team.
“We just got finished with the first month,” Lee said. “June is a tough grind and we’re usually going at it two or three times a day whether its workouts, meetings, or coming back and throwing. It’s been a grind and I think guys are really buying in and looking forward to putting in this extra work. We kind of changed up the schedule a little bit and it’s been great so far.
“We work out in the mornings, film in the afternoon, we have routes and 7-on-7 and things like that in the afternoon. It’s been going really well. This time of year, guys are staring to really get into game shape and get stronger and faster so it’s been really exciting to see.”
With a shifting offensive focus and an entirely new defense, the offseason workouts are vital for the team to get off to a good start in the fall. Since he arrived in Lincoln, Mike Riley has tried to establish more in-house leadership from the players rather than having the coaches be responsible for the day-to-day leadership, and Lee said that emphasis is paying off.
“I think it’s huge and I think everybody realizes that,” Lee said. “Going back to the leadership positions we have, I think every position has a great leader, whether it’s Chris Weber with the linebackers or it’s Stanley Morgan and De’Mornay [Pierson-El] with the wide receivers and then [Devine] Ozigbo and Mikale [Wilbon] have played back there for a long time and now you have Tre [Bryant] so you have a lot of veteran presence in the backfield. Aaron Williams at safety; he kind of oversees that whole defense and you can tell he’s getting really comfortable with Coach [Bob] Diaco’s defense. It’s a heightened level of focus this offseason compared to ones I’ve been part of in the past.”
As for Lee personally, he got some extra work in at the annual Manning Passing Academy recently, and Lee said the experience was both an enjoyable and an educational one for him.
“It’s my favorite week of the year,” said Lee, who has attended the camp multiple times. “You get to go spend personal quality time with the family of football. It’s an unbelievable opportunity, an unreal experience. There are really no words to describe how humbling it is to be in a room and be getting advice from three or four hall of famers at a time.
“The people they surround you with, the time that they give to every single person is super impressive. They put us through workouts and gave us pointers and hints, just kind of tutoring us on how you go through your day, how you approach your work, how you approach your film sessions and your relationships with your teammates. Anything that you want to ask them, they’ll answer it. It’s a great weekend every year.”
Lee is always looking for new sources of knowledge, and he has turned to his predecessors at Nebraska “whenever he can.”
“I’ve had a lot of conversations with Tommy Armstrong and Ryker Fyfe as soon as I got here and they were just kind of teaching me the ropes and different things they’ve gone through,” Lee said. “I got the opportunity to meet Eric Crouch. He sat into a meeting, one of our quarterback meetings, and he got to tell his story and gave us his phone number and his email, let us know if we needed anything, any advice, things like that. It’s a good feeling to have; if things get tough, I have guys I can lean on including Coach Riley and Coach Langsdorf that know what it takes, they have a lot of experience coaching college football.”
Lee ultimately had to go out and win the starting job on the field, which he did in the spring, but it was also important for him as a transfer to win over his new teammates and coaches, a fact Lee embraced as soon as he arrived in Lincoln.
“It was tough, coming into a new program not really knowing anybody, trying to develop new relationships with players and coaches,” Lee said. “I think it was just buying into what my job was last year, which was to run the scout team the best way I could, and I took that very seriously. I think that helped in building those same relationships and gaining that respect of other players and things like that. I think it’s just coming to work every day with the same work ethic and consistency and building trust with your teammates. I think it ultimately helped build relationships and win the job. I think’s it’s just kind of been growing from there.”
With a more pro-style passer taking snaps rather than the dual-threat quarterbacks of the past, most recently Tommy Armstrong Jr., Nebraska’s offense is shifting towards putting more emphasis on the quick passing game. Armstrong had more than enough arm strength to make plays down the field, but where he struggled most was understanding when it was time to take the deep shot and when the right play was to check the ball down and take the short gain.
Those that attended spring practices saw that the check-down pass and short passing game overall are very much a big part of what Lee does well, but Nebraska also have enough weapons to bust of a big play now and then. It will be up to Lee to find that balance between the two.
“I think that’s one of the biggest parts of playing quarterback is finding that balance between being aggressive and being safe,” Lee said. “But it all depends on where you’re at in the game, if you’re winning or losing, what time it is, what quarter you’re in. It’s kind of come with experience for me, when’s the right time to take a shot and when’s the right time to check it down, things like that. There are things I’m focusing on this summer and that’s one of them for sure.
“Coach [Danny] Langsdorf’s been doing a great job in tutoring me in that way, just really honing in on that in our meetings and understanding the offense and that somebody’s always going to be open. Finding that guy and moving the ball, getting first downs, and then throwing touchdowns when we get the chance. It’s been really exciting and rewarding being coached by him so far.”
As for the rest of the team, Lee had nothing but praise for how the vets and young players alike have looked during workouts. The first two players that came to mind for Lee, based on both on-field play and leadership, were a pair of senior defensive backs.
“As far as guys that are looking great, I’d say our corners,” Lee said. “[Joshua] Kalu and Chris Jones are impressive looking athletes; they’re definitely the type of guys you want playing corner for you. But they’ve really stepped up in leadership positions and have been able to help out a lot in that way. That’s been a big improvement I think this summer, just from a lot of guys stepping up this summer and taking those leadership roles. It makes it easier if you have a group of leaders instead of just a few.”
Kalu has moved to safety after playing corner last year, and his wide array af skills after playing nearly every position in the defensive backfield could make him a unique weapon at his new position.
On offense, all the hype at wide receiver beyond Stanley Morgan Jr. and De’Mornay Pierson-El is surrounding the young wide receivers that are coming into the program, but Lee said not to overlook two veterans.
“I’d definitely say Bryan Reimers and Gabe Rahn [are standing out,” Lee said. “I think those two guys work as hard as anybody. I keep saying that over and over again, but I’ve really built a trust with those two on the outside. They kind of play opposite of each other. Reimers is such a big target and he’s trustworthy, he has great hands. Gabe’s a great route runner. I can always trust him to get open and fight for the ball if I put it out there.
“Other than that, in the slot you have J.D. [Spielan] and Keyan Williams, and Tyjon Lindsey’s been looking great; he’s just a natural born football player.”
Lindsey is the 4-star freshman known for his speed, and he has the versatility to play both in the slot and at flanker.
“I think you’ll be able to see him in the slot and on the outside,” Lee said. “We’ve kind of just been throwing him anywhere. There’s so much talent, you have to have that kind of talent out there on the field and he’s so fast. Just trying to hone in that speed and teach him how to get open, it’s been a fun process and he’s picking it up quickly.”
Last but not least, a quarterback is only as good as the offensive line protecting him and Lee said he’s been pleased with what he’s seen up front so far.
“I think that’s the most exciting thing, for me at least, having guys back that have built a chemistry,” Lee said. “I think a year of playing together is a huge difference on the offensive line. I think just being comfortable with the guy next to you and having played so many snaps is going to be a big advantage for us. The guys are as big as ever, especially at this point of the summer. I think they’re taking it extremely seriously, just really working hard. I’m excited for those guys and I’m glad they’re on my side.”
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Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.