LINCOLN — Tanner Lee studied Nebraska’s playbook for months while taking 12 credit hours at Tulane.
“It’s all the same concepts that I’m used to, that I’ve been running the past three years,” said Lee, who started 19 games and threw 23 career touchdowns for the Green Wave before a coaching change prompted him to transfer. “Now it’s all about terminology and learning some variations of routes. But it’s the same reads.”
Consider it a big head start for what amounts to a long wait. NCAA rules force Lee to sit out one year before he plays in games for Nebraska. The Huskers have three-year starter Tommy Armstrong returning for his senior season, so it would have been hard for Lee to crack the starting lineup anyway. Still, he concedes that having no chance to play for a year won’t be easy.
Lee, who expects to get a sixth year of eligibility that will keep him at Nebraska through 2018, has a starter’s mindset.
He arrives Wednesday and will live off campus, probably with a Husker teammate. He’ll have the goal of improving himself while also trying to help his new team prepare for 2016.
“My primary goal is to add value to the quarterback room,” Lee said. “Help any way I can, be a leader, get better, compete when my time comes. Hopefully I’m running the scout team and helping the defense get reps.”
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Lee — as big as current freshman Patrick O’Brien, with perhaps a stronger arm — worked in May with private quarterback coach George Whitfield. It’s the second straight summer he’s done so. Lee is not concerned about his arm talent — in his mind, he can make all the throws.
So he and Whitfield worked on more intricate things. Throwing under duress. Throwing off-balance. Working on agility and movement in the pocket.
“A lot of times in games, you don’t make throws when you’re standing still and on balance and not getting hit,” Lee said. “So the work with George Whitfield, it was a lot about making throws when you’re uncomfortable, when you’re making hard throws that you’d see in the game. You get accurate with those throws, and it really improves your game.”
Lee also wants to put more focus on decision-making. At Tulane, he completed 53.6 percent of his passes and threw an interception on 3.4 percent of his passes. Armstrong, maligned by some Husker fans for his passing, has completed 53.9 percent of his passes and thrown an interception on 4.1 percent of his passes. Plus, Armstrong adds running ability. Lee is a pro-style quarterback and lost 287 yards over his two seasons at Tulane.
“The biggest part of quarterback are the decisions you make on every play — the right decisions at the right time,” Lee said. “If you’re up in the game and you have time on the clock, you shouldn’t be taking risks or too many shots. You should be getting your team in the best play to move the ball and continue to win the game. But you also want to be aggressive, to be able to make plays for your team, so you have to take a shot. It’s all about knowing your personnel and knowing what to do with the ball at the right time.”
Nebraska’s personnel at wideout, Lee said, is elite. Seniors Brandon Reilly, Alonzo Moore and Jordan Westerkamp are at the heart of perhaps the Big Ten’s best receiving corps. He looks forward to throwing the ball to them in practice — even if he never throws to them in games.
Lee will get a chance to throw to some of NU’s younger receivers, such as De’Mornay Pierson-El and Stanley Morgan, whom Lee said have been positively influenced by the seniors.
“They’ll mimic the older guys as they go on in their career,” Lee said.
And Lee has full confidence in their position coach, Keith Williams, who coached at Tulane before arriving at Nebraska. One of Williams’ longtime mentors was Lee’s former head coach at Tulane, Curtis Johnson.
“He’s such a great player’s coach,” Lee said of Williams. “The energy he brings to practice is big. You need that. When he brings it, the receivers bring it. He gives them that attitude, that swagger to perform. That’s why I love him. That’s why I’m excited to throw to receivers he is coached by.”
Another source of excitement: playing for a Power Five program. Lee didn’t get that kind of scholarship opportunity coming out of high school in New Orleans, and he liked playing in Johnson’s pro-style offense. But Nebraska’s football atmosphere, Lee said, is “next level,” and coach Mike Riley’s offense fits the style Lee wants.
He said he also wants to watch Armstrong and how he goes about his business as a high-profile quarterback.
“You can tell he’s played for a few years now, and he’s a heck of a playmaker,” Lee said. “He’s fun to watch. I’m looking forward to learning from him and working throughout the season to help him prepare. I think he’s a great player.”
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