Steven M. Sipple: Tanner Lee unwittingly takes advantage of odd aspect of modern football

March 6, 2018 GMT

Things I know, and things I think I know:

It’s March, football’s offseason. There’s not a bone-crushing game in sight.

In other words, it’s Tanner Lee’s time to shine.

Don’t read that as criticism of Lee. He’s a first-rate dude. He’s eminently likable. But I think he unwittingly takes full advantage of an aspect of modern football that I regard as rather bizarre. That is, the process of evaluating (and touting) players based on what they do in combines, summer camps (for recruits), seven-on-seven competitions and the like, as opposed to emphasizing what they do in 11-on-11 games with, you know, tackling.


People tire of me saying we should, in evaluating both players and coaches, emphasize what happens in the fall and winter — I know, strange concept — as opposed to what happens in the spring and summer, which usually amounts to a lot of cotton candy. It tastes good, makes you happy, gets thousands of clicks on web sites, generates fodder for talking heads (guilty), but is of little substance.

I think Nebraska’s program became lethargic on cotton candy, but I’m guessing Scott Frost is going to change that quickly.

Meanwhile, you’ve perhaps heard the 6-foot-4, 218-pound Lee performed well Saturday in the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, drawing praise from an NFL Network panel. It was all very predictable because Lee throws gorgeous spirals, has a perfect release, and there was no pass rush. No danger of getting sacked. No wind. No moisture. No need to make difficult decisions in a flash. Just put on your gym shorts — no pads needed — and let ’er rip, son.

What does it all mean?

It’s like trying to make a meaningful evaluation of a fighter based on how well he shadow boxes. You can surmise only so much.

Credit Lee. He plays “the game” outside the game well. He will shine in interviews with NFL teams. He’s well-spoken and says all the right things all the time. Somebody’s coached him superbly on how to be pleasant without saying anything particularly noteworthy. That’s a skill.

He’ll probably get drafted next month — I’m guessing round five or six. Never mind his 37 career interceptions (versus 46 touchdown passes) as a college quarterback. Never mind that 10-26 career record, including 4-8 last season at Nebraska. We can explain all of it away.

Put him behind a strong offensive line and see what he does!


He is in fact a pretty good player. I envision him as a longtime NFL backup. This much is certain: He’s going to move the chains in practice wearing a “hands-off, no-contact” jersey. He’s going to look excellent in seven-on-seven drills with no linemen on the field. NFL media will write glowing reports on him.

He shined at the Manning Passing Academy in June, and Nebraska media raced to their keyboards. I wrote a glowing article or two (or three or four or more) about him based on his offseason work. Sometimes I catch myself writing what amounts to nonsense during the tortuously long offseason. But I’m trying harder to cut back on the sweets.

Oh, yes, I should note Lee gave Jim Rome an exceptional interview recently. Couldn’t have handled himself better. Rome adored him.

The only place Lee seems to struggle is in games. But we can overlook that minor detail, right?

Details, details ...

“I love this team. I love their approach every week and we have had very few issues except for the games, and I really appreciate that.”

That was Mike Riley last season on the Monday following a 54-21 loss at Minnesota.

If only there were no games, no chances to get slugged in the mouth by an actual opponent, what a wonderful life it would be.

On second thought, that life would stink. I’ll pass on the cotton candy, thank you.

* It’s possible the Nebraska men’s basketball team (22-10, 13-5 Big Ten) has done enough to merit an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament.

But I liked the idea of the Huskers having to earn their way into the Big Dance with a win against a surging Michigan team in one of the world’s most iconic sports venues. What an opportunity for Tim Miles’ program.

So much for that storyline.

“It was a moment to rise to the occasion,” Miles told reporters. “And we didn’t do it.”

I frankly didn’t consider the possibility of Michigan dominating the game.

* Miles’ contract runs through the 2019-20 season. As Husker athletic director Bill Moos mulls a possible restructuring of the deal, two questions come to mind:

1. Does Miles deserve an extension?

2. Is Miles the right coach to take the program to the next level?

The answer to the first question obviously is “yes.”

The answer to the second question is a bit more complicated.

Wonder which way Moos leans?

* Am I really going to close this column by noting something that happened Sunday at the NFL combine after (sort of) disparaging it?

You have to have nerve in this business.

Former UCF linebacker Shaquem Griffin, who lost his left hand due to a birth defect, ran a 4.38-second 40, the fastest time by a linebacker at the combine since at least 2003. What an inspiration.

In his honor, let’s make this no-excuse Monday.

Enjoy the day.