LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee doesn’t spend much time on social media. So he has little idea what his critics are saying about his interceptions or his mobility.
That approach is probably best for Lee. As he stands in front of the media following practice on Tuesday, he preaches positivity. It’s an important part of his role as captain.
And sure, while he doesn’t know what those on Facebook and Twitter are saying, he understands the reality and gravity of the situation for Cornhuskers football. It’s why he’s quick to focus the areas of improvement on himself, and not entirely on his teammates in front of him.
“When things break down, and that happens sometimes, you just have try to go through the progression and make plays and get the ball out,” Lee said Tuesday. “I can help protection by moving around and getting the ball out quick. That’s just something I’m focusing on.”
But it really isn’t all on Lee. Against Northern Illinois, he was sacked 3 times. The Huskies also had 9 tackles for a loss and 7 quarterback hurries.
You would think Lee could be a little critical of the offensive line’s performance so far. Many wouldn’t blame him if he were, but that’s not how Lee operates.
He’s friends with those in front of him on the line. And he knows they have his back as much as he has theirs.
“I have a good relationship with everybody on that line,” Lee said. “I think sometimes they feel guilty or want to apologize if I get hit, but I tell them that’s not what I’m trying to hear really. I know they’re doing their best when they’re out there playing. I know they’re hard on themselves. They don’t need me yelling at them or anything like that. I’m just reassuring them that I trust them, and I know they’re going to try their best.
“Getting hit doesn’t really affect the way I feel about them in any way. It’s just a part of the game. It’s just something you have to get through.”
He’s not exaggerating about the relationship he has with the offensive line either. He recently spent time celebrating guard Jerald Foster’s birthday at offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh’s house.
Lee will also hang out and play video games with his teammates. They’ll even play golf in the offseason. It’s all “pretty normal” stuff for college kids.
— Mike Cavanaugh (@CoachCavHuskers) September 15, 2017
While they are friends off the field, Lee knows their performance on the field needs to improve. When talking about the areas to work on, he focuses on himself once again. Just as you expect a captain would.
And when he looks toward the Saturday matchup with Rutgers, it’s hard for Lee not to be taken back for just a moment. In 2014, he was playing for Tulane. The Green Wave was facing the Scarlet Knights, and Lee was the starting quarterback.
Lee remembers Tulane coming out strong against Rutgers. While the Scarlet Knights led 14-0 by the end of the first quarter, Lee distinctly remembers feeling his team was playing well.
And then things changed in a matter of seconds.
“I got hit and I separated my shoulder in the second quarter right in the middle when we were competing with them,” Lee said. “That’s a Big Ten game, and we wanted to go out and show [what we could do]. It’ll be cool to play against them again.”
Rutgers ultimately won 31-6 that day. Three years later, Lee is eager for another shot.
In some ways, the start of Big Ten play is also another opportunity for Lee and his teammates. While the record still reads 1-2, the Huskers have a chance to turn it all around against conference foes.
And the adversity Lee faced at Tulane? It’s now applicable at Nebraska more than ever.
“My experiences at Tulane definitely taught me a lot,” Lee said. “They made me a better person and a better player, and I maybe matured quicker. Playing there and going through tough times there definitely helped going through tough times now. I’m prepared for it.
“We’re just really looking forward to getting this thing going, getting some wins and having some fun. That’s what we’re focused on.”
And there’s something else. Despite not spending much time on social media, he seems to have an idea of what people might be saying, especially in one particular area.
When asked if Nebraska fans will see him run a bit more in the future, Lee starts to smirk.
“That was my first rushing touchdown,” Lee said. “Maybe we’ll do those some more.”
In fact, he ended with 2 rushing touchdowns against Northern Illinois last Saturday. So, could there be more from Lee in the future?
“Yes, I have legs.”