Eric Lee Jr. has been a Husker for a long time and he’s seen a lot of coaches come and go in Lincoln.
He committed to Nebraska in 2015 under head coach Bo Pelini and secondary coach Charlton Warren. He stuck with that commitment after the coaching change and spent his first three seasons on campus under Mike Riley’s staff (two with defensive backs coach Brian Stewart and one with Donte Williams). He stuck around through another coaching change as Scott Frost returned to Lincoln and brought Travis Fisher with him to be his defensive backs coach.
Now he’s nearly completed his final fall camp as a Husker.
“It feels good being the last camp, but at the same time I’m just trying to take in everything and enjoy everything while it’s still here and go out with a bang this year,” Lee said.
Lee redshirted in 2015 then played in eight games as a redshirt freshman, primarily on special teams. He cracked the lineup on defense in 2017, starting the first six games of the season following an offseason injury to returning starter Chris Jones. He played in three more games off the bench before getting injured. Lee recorded 30 tackles including one for loss and two pass break-ups.
Last season, Lee played in nine games with one start, recording 13 tackles. When Lamar Jackson got benched, Lee was the one who stepped into the lineup, recording five tackles against Purdue after replacing Jackson and then following that up with another five against Wisconsin in his only start.
Now he’s heading into his final season as a Husker.
“The energy’s completely different than it has been in the past,” Lee said. “I’m excited to see what we bring to the table when we get things started here soon.”
Lee has the same coach, but he’s playing a new position this season. Frost and Fisher moved Lee from corner to safety and that’s where he’s been working since the spring.
“It’s going really well,” Lee said about the transition. “I like it a lot. It challenges you mentally, especially with Coach Frost’s offense. He’s an extraordinary play-caller so he’s always giving us different stuff that we know we’ll see throughout the season. It’s just lining everyone up and fitting pieces like it’s a puzzle.”
At 6 feet and 215 pounds, Lee said his physicality makes him a natural fit for safety.
“Definitely my tackling ability and just my willingness to come down and hit a blocker and spill it if I need to,” Lee said. “Just being physical, I think that’s the biggest thing I can contribute at that position.”
Fisher said he’s seen a difference in Lee’s mood so far in his new position.
“He’s an older guy,” Fisher said. “He’s very smart, he’s savvy. He’s been through some ups and downs here. He’s happy now — I think that’s what makes it more important for him, he’s actually happy and he can fly around. He’s flying around, making plays and he’s practiced a lot better because he likes the game a little bit more than he probably liked it before.”
Lee swapping positions seamlessly heading into his senior year is emblematic of what Fisher is doing with all of the guys in his room. Nearly every defensive back is getting cross-trained either in the film room or on the practice field (or both).
“What makes it better is just the culture,” Fisher said. “Guys have their job and there’s no ego playing into it, like, hey, I’m a starting corner. Hey, the team needs me at safety, so I’m a starting safety today. Or the team needs me at nickel, I’m the starting nickel today. Or the team needs me to be a back-up corner, then guess what? As soon as I touch the field I’m not a back-up, I’m a starter. Just having that mentality, there’s no such thing as a back-up when I touch the field, I’m a starter when I touch the field. Just understanding it that way, I can plug guys into different spots. There are no egos playing into it, there are no disgruntled players.”
Lee echoed Fisher’s sentiment about the culture now in place in Lincoln, and particularly in the safety room as the Huskers look to replace the three seniors who played the majority of the snaps last season.
“Everyone’s encouraging everyone to make plays, teaching everyone the defense,” Lee said. “If an old guy makes a mistake, a young guy will teach them, tell them ‘Hey, this is what you need to do,’ and vice versa.”
Eric Lee’s move to safety has given him new life heading into his final season as a Husker, and he’s looking to make some noise however he can before he’s done.
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.