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Lee brings experience, confidence to QB race

By NU Athletic Communications

By Brian Rosenthal / Huskers.com

When Nebraska football coach Mike Riley says Tanner Lee and Patrick O’Brien – listed here in alphabetical order, by last name – enter spring practices as co-No. 1 quarterbacks, he means it.

So careful is Riley about no hints of favoritism that he’s considering having offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf flip a coin just to see which quarterback takes the first practice snaps on Saturday.

That’s how even the competition is as Nebraska replaces four-year starter Tommy Armstrong Jr.

Let the games begin.

“I’ve been in competition before, and I think it benefits all guys involved. I really do,” Lee said. “I think it pushes you to be better, and every day, to have something extra to push you and be a better player, it helps.

“It’s going to make our quarterback room so much better. It’s going to make everyone better in the future for having gone through a competition like this.”

Lee, a 6-foot-4, 205-pound junior from Destrehan, Louisiana, spent last season on Nebraska’s team sitting out as a transfer from Tulane, where he made 19 starts over two seasons.

“He’s not going to blink,” Riley said at Wednesday’s pre-spring news conference. “He’s poised, he’s smart.”

That’s a testament to Lee’s playing experience, perhaps the only asset that separates him from O’Brien, a redshirt freshman.

“He has the advantage of playing a lot of football in college,” Langsdorf said. “That’s the one thing that will help him, that he’s got the game experience that Patrick does not. Now, Patrick is talented. We love him. It’s great to have a battle, a competition like we’re going to have, because it’s going to be good for both them and our team.”

To be certain, the starting job will go to whomever manages the offense the best, is efficient and takes cares of the football, and not necessarily to the man with the most collegiate snaps to his name.

Lee is just thankful to be playing competitive football again after missing last season per NCAA transfer rules. He ran the scout team in practice and earned scout team Offensive MVP honors.

“I think it was a big growth year,” Lee said. “I took it a lot like a redshirt year, trying to learn a new offense, get acclimated with a new group of guys, just getting used to my surroundings a little bit, really pay attention to my body, get healthy and just get ready to roll now that spring’s here.”

“I’ve really grown to like this group of guys, and I’m excited to get it rolling.”

Lee said going through the recruiting process a second time gave him a different perspective. In the end, everything about Nebraska "just felt right," he said.

“I loved the coaching staff. I’m really excited to play with Coach Langsdorf and Coach Riley," Lee said. "After I took my visit up here with my parents, it was kind of a no-brainer choice. It was a dream come true to play for a program like this with the tradition. You just can’t beat it.

“I’ve played for some coaches who have all had NFL experience, and so I like to ask them about guys they coached, especially to Coach Langs about Eli Manning. It’s extremely interesting to me just to know what those guys are like within the daily process, because that’s exactly who I would like to emulate and end up being one day.”

Langsdorf said Nebraska “went toe-to-toe with LSU” in recruiting Lee after he announced plans to transfer.

Nabbing Lee from his home state, “was big for us,” said Langsdorf, who’s had both Lee and O’Brien as regular visitors in his office over the winter months, both eager to soak in extra football knowledge.

“It’s really fun to have guys who are football junkies,” Langsdorf said, “because you’re not calling them and saying, ‘Where are you? Why aren’t you throwing?’ You’re not wondering if they’re studying their playbook or if they’re getting answers to their questions. You’re not wondering about that. You’re not trying to prod them into showing up. You’re almost trying to get them out of your office because they’re here so much.

“It’s kind of fun that way. Our best quarterbacks in our past have been like that. They’re in my office all the time. They’re always asking questions. They just like football. When you have that passion to play, I think it carries over to practice and games. That’s an important piece to being a good quarterback.”

Lee remembers one such quarterback. His name is Shawn Mannion, and he became the Pac-12’s all-time leading passer as a four-year starter at Oregon State under Riley and three years under Langsdorf.

“I think I have the same skill sets as him,” Lee said. “He was a real good passer. I’ve seen a ton of his film and I just really like what I see, pushing the ball down the field and making plays and scoring points.

“I’m extremely confident in my arm. I have the ability to make any throw at any time, and just overall knowledge of the offense and being able to put the team in good plays and keep moving the chains and not put the team in a bad situation.”

The fit with Langsdorf's scheme was a big reason Lee chose Nebraska, as he looked for an offense that more suited his abilities that the one he ran at Tulane.

“I think I’ve always been extremely interested in football,” Lee said. “In high school, my quarterback coach at the time really taught me to love the game and love the details and the film room and understanding if you can be an extension of the coach on the field, you’re going to help your team.

“To be a successful quarterback, you have to know the intricacies of every position, that if I was given a different skill set, I would like to think I could play any position on the field and know what to do,” Lee said. “I think it’s important, because when there’s 90,000 fans out there, you can have an 18-year-old kid next to you that’s maybe going to blank out and not know it as well, and you have to be able to answer him quickly.”

Lee has spent the winter months growing relationships with his receivers, making sure they feel comfortable with him, and vice-versa. The throwing and route-running, over and over, gives all a chance to fine-tune details.

“I’ve done a lot of that with Stanley Morgan,” Lee said of the junior receiver from New Orleans. “We’re from the same area and I knew him in high school. We were trying to recruit him at Tulane. I feel we’ve gotten on the same page, and he’s been able to be a great leader for that group of receivers. He’s doing a real good job with them.”

As for the man who will be throwing them footballs in actual games this fall, don’t expect a decision soon.

Riley said Wednesday that, at some point, he’ll make an announcement – probably later than sooner.

“I don’t think there’s any urgency,” Riley said. “I just want to be sure they get repetitions.”

 Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter@GBRosenthal.

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