CHICAGO — Some of the Big Ten’s biggest names at quarterback aren’t in Chicago for the conference’s annual media extravaganza, but Nebraska’s new starter, Tulane transfer Tanner Lee, is.
He hasn’t taken a snap for the Cornhuskers yet, but that doesn’t make him unique in 2017. No quarterback on the roster has. But it is an interesting juxtaposition in a conference context.
What does it mean that Lee is here and others like Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett and Penn State’s Trace McSorley are not? That’s a question for another time.
As for why Lee is here, Nebraska head coach Mike Riley did have an answer for that.
“His entry has been impressive just in the simple fact that he became a good teammate, became immediately well-liked and through time became very well-respected,” Riley said. “Enough so to be elected one of our captains for our offseason conditioning program and [he] led a team during that time.
“He entered in not really a dramatic fashion, just became one of the guys. I thought it was very appropriate he would be with us here today.”
Lee will get the chance to display some of those qualities Riley mentioned later on Tuesday as one of Nebraska’s representative at Big Ten Media Days.
Riley offered a few other quick updates during his opening comments.
>>Nebraska’s switch to the 3-4 defense following the hire of defensive coordinator Bob Diaco will be a big topic of conversation in Chicago. On Tuesday, Riley outlined how the change came together.
“When we decided to make a change at defensive coordinator, I was primarily interested in who that person was, but also interested in what they would bring schematically. Back to my roots coaching defense, I was a 3-4 defensive coach so I have been for a time intrigued about getting back to a 3-4. That was a factor.
“The availability of Coach Diaco and my desire to look into the 3-4 led me to the interview. The interview was really great confirmation about what else this guy would bring. I see Bob as a really good teacher, a fundamental, 1-2-3-4, this-is-how-it’s-done [approach]. I love that part of him and I also like the detail of it and I love the enthusiasm with which he approaches it.”
Diaco quickly turned an impressive interview into an impressive spring-practice run with the team, Riley said.
“When you change schematically like that, a big change going from a four-man front foundation to a three-man front, you’re looking at people on your team who have to be placed at different positions. So study your team, who fits where, how is this going to look and actually teaching that part of it and making it look like football as it goes forward, that’s a lot of stuff involved there. I was impressed with what happened in that way with spring ball.”
>>Nebraska will need to find a new cornerback with returning starter Chris Jones sidelined by a knee injury for an expected four-to-six months, but the Huskers are still working through their options in the secondary.
“I absolutely hated that news about Chris Jones,” Riley said. “It was a big, big surprise. This is a very good player, a very good guy. Really fun to be around, and loved football. I’m really hopeful for his return. When that is, I’m not sure.
“What you have to do from there is turn the page and figure out what is best for the team. We are still talking about that. There are lots of possibilities that people that are close to Nebraska are already thinking.
“Does Josh Kalu move back from playing safety to corner? . . . We love him at safety, we loved how that looked in spring ball. We are at this time reluctant to say this is exactly what we’re going to do.”
Kalu, a senior, spent the past two seasons at cornerback. The Huskers other top options at cornerback, Eric Lee Jr. and Lamar Jackson, are both sophomores.
>>Riley was also asked about the loss of assistant coach Bob Elliott who passed away earlier this month.
“My relationship with Coach Elliott, working with him, was way too short,” Riley said. “Just a few months.”
“The things I learned about him in just a short time were much more dramatic than all of that history that he had on his resume. This was a really good person. I think the thing he loved about what he did was the relationship with the players, both him and his wife and children. They really embraced and loved that part of what he got to do as a football coach.”
Riley added that the Huskers have plans to honor Elliott during the season.
We’ll have much more from Riley and the rest of the Huskers in Chicago throughout the day.