LINCOLN — Quarterback Tanner Lee clicked a pen in his right throwing hand as he explained the goals for Nebraska’s summer throwing sessions and offseason training.
The passing sessions between quarterbacks and receivers — usually in the afternoon — are shorter with more action than they have been previously, Lee said.
“We’re getting more reps,” Lee said. “It’s quicker and more efficient — not as much standing around.”
The training, meanwhile, is centered on developing mental and physical toughness. Lee and nine other position group leaders — established by team vote during winter conditioning — have enlisted Husker strength coaches to install an accountability program that Lee thinks will help Nebraska finish strong and compete for a Big Ten title.
“It’s an emphasis,” Lee said. “The players realize: We’ve got to be tough, confident as all hell. Respect our opponent, but don’t be scared of them.”
Senior fullback Luke McNitt, one of Lee’s closest friends on the roster, said the approach is more rigorous than in past years.
“The strength coaches were good at keeping us accountable but there were some days they’d let things slip,” McNitt said, “and we told them: ‘We don’t want you to let anything get by you. If one guy messes up, send us all back.’ That’s one thing we’re harping on. We want 100 percent consistency. Send us all back and we’ll do it again until it’s right.
“It may make us all mad when we’re out there, but it’s going to pay off later with accountability. The way they’ve got it set up now, we’re putting in a lot of good work.”
Lee had already put in work before he returned to campus last weekend. After winning the starting job after spring practice and finishing classes, he spent several weeks at home and five days — including Memorial Day weekend — with private quarterbacks coach and ESPN analyst George Whitfield Jr., who has worked with several current NFL quarterbacks, including Jameis Winston.
Lee and Whitfield have been working since Lee’s freshman year at Tulane. Count Whitfield among Lee’s biggest fans.
“I love him,” Whitfield said. “If I had a football team, I’d love to have Tanner Lee.”
Whitfield praised Lee’s personality and his “mettle” to adjust to adversity in training and difficult circumstances, such as a coaching change at Tulane. Whitfield selected Lee to speak to youth campers. He watched Lee mentor younger college quarterbacks who worked with Whitfield.
Lee’s physical traits — his arm strength, the quickness of his release and his sheer size — stand out to Whitfield, too. Lee is the “prototypical” quarterback, Whitfield said, whom fans might normally see at Stanford or USC.
“He’s one of those rare guys that you don’t have to spend any time on throwing mechanics,” Whitfield said. “He’s one of the purest passers I’ve been around. He’s still working on things — like touch — but in terms of throwing the ball, he’s teaching tape for youngsters. We just filmed everything he did his last couple times down here and we’re cutting that up to use for our high school kids to say ‘look how efficient he is, look how functional he is.’ ”
Lee said he focused on good footwork — such as re-establishing his balance after being pressured in the pocket — because he thinks it’s a hidden part of success in the passing game.
“Over the course of the game, you don’t make a lot of throws where you’re just dropping back, standing there, making a throw,” Lee said. “A lot of the throws you’re on the move, you’re uncomfortable. George does a great job of creating havoc and making sure you’re reorganized and able to make a good, balanced, strong throw. I like working on those things. They show up a lot in games.”
A trainer for previous Heisman Trophy winners Winston and Johnny Manziel, Whitfield is currently working with Wyoming’s Josh Allen, Notre Dame’s Brandon Wimbush, Indiana’s Richard Lagow, Arizona State’s Blake Barnett, TCU’s Kenny Hill and Wisconsin’s Alex Hornibrook, among others.
Lee and Hornibrook trained together twice this offseason — during spring break and Memorial Day. They’ve become friends.
“We have similar personalities,” Lee said. “Similar drives. We want the same thing. We competed every single day in everything we did. We competed in golf. But, when we left, I said, ‘I’ll see you in Lincoln.’ It’s going to be a lot of fun to play against him.”
Whitfield hopes the game has a night kickoff so he can attend. Whitfield works as an analyst on ESPN’s “GameDay.” Whitfield said he can sense the importance of the game between the two players.
“The only time it gets mentioned is when myself or an intern brings up the date of the game,” Whitfield said. “There’s no chest beating. They just go about their business. They’re buddies. Everybody down here knows: it’s 10/7 — Oct. 7 — they’re gonna lock horns.
“I always hope it comes down to the kickers. I hope both quarterbacks hit 75 percent of their throws for big gains and big yards and no turnovers and it comes down to this kicker vs. that kicker in triple overtime.”
Will Tanner Lee make an All-Big Ten team in his first season as the Huskers’ quarterback?
Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee spent Memorial Day weekend with George Whitfield, a private quarterbacks coach and ESPN analyst, who called Lee "one of the purest passers I’ve been around." Do you think Lee will make an all-conference team this season?