Linebacker Nyles Morgan starts his comeback from shoulder surgery at Notre Dame Pro Day
SOUTH BEND — Nyles Morgan’s doctors tell him that his body won’t be back to 100 percent until sometime in June, well over a month after the former Notre Dame linebacker hopes to sneak into the late rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft.
If his phone stays silent for all three days (April 26-28) and seven rounds, the two-year Irish starter is fine being considered a long shot and working his way onto an NFL roster via the rookie free agent route, just as he was fine playing through the pain of a chronic right shoulder injury his entire senior season and deferring labrum surgery until Jan. 9.
“I still can’t bench press, and I was only cleared to run two or three weeks ago,” Morgan said after participating in Notre Dame’s Pro Day Thursday at the Loftus Center, along with eight of his former Irish teammates, in varying degrees.
“I think I showed them I’m an explosive player. I hope I showed them I can fit in any system. I’m going to keep working hard every day to prove it.”
Testing times/distances reflect the rust of inactivity from surgery more than Morgan’s recent efforts to get back up to speed.
His best time in the 40-yard dash (4.78 seconds) would have been in the slowest third of among the 27 linebackers who ran at the NFL Combine, roughly three weeks ago in Indianapolis, and matched fellow ND linebacker Greer Martini’s best time Thursday. ND’s second-leading tackler in 2017 and leader in 2016 was slightly behind Martini in the other physical tests in which they participated on Thursday.
All 32 NFL teams were on hand, including Colts general manager Chris Ballard, to take in the Combine-style auditions of four ND players who didn’t earn invites to the actual NFL Combine (Morgan, Martini, defensive end Andrew Trumbetti and ND/Florida QB Malik Zaire) and the five who did.
That latter group comprised running back Josh Adams, wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown, tight end Durham Smythe and offensive linemen Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson.
And McGlinchey and Nelson, projected first-rounders, simply stole the show Thursday during their position drills.
When pressed about which of the ND player helped himself the most Thursday, NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock didn’t flinch at insisting they were the two players who least needed to boost their stock.
“Pro Days are a funny thing,” Mayock offered. “Because we’re in the media, we tend to blow things up a little bit. Most of them are just confirming what you’ve already seen on film.
“But when you talk about McGlinchey and Nelson, the workout they put on today was as good as an offensive line pro day workout as I’ve ever seen.”
Seemingly everyone in the building was just as mesmerized as Mayock, forming a large circle around the All-Americans, and not because of Nelson’s sweet sparkling-gold cleats.
The 6-foot-5, 332-pound Nelson half-kiddingly warned the coaches running one of the drills that the 6-5, 253-pound Smythe would be “too little” to provide the resistance they were looking for. Moments later he drove the former Irish tight end back so forcefully and violently, Nelson almost took out a few spectators in the process.
“Usually, I just kind of yawn when I see an offensive lineman’s workout,” Mayock said. “I think what you saw with Quenton Nelson today is incredible power in his hands. You see scouts and coaches, who have been to thousands of these, go ‘Ohhhhhhh.’
“The power in Quenton’s lower body is apparent as he was hitting the bags today. And it’s same thing with Michael. Their work ethic. Their intelligence.”
Nelson could be the first offensive guard since Bill Fralic in 1985 (an All-America tackle at Pitt who was drafted as a guard) to be selected among the draft’s top five overall picks. McGlinchey is projected to go middle-to-late first round. Neither will be in Arlington, Texas for the draft, incidentally, as both will stay home to watch with friends and family.
“The stuff you and I don’t get to see is these coaches putting them on the board, watching film with them, closing the door to see what they know, because they were so well-coached by (former ND offensive line coach) Harry Hiestand,” Mayock said. “They’re so well positioned to take the next step, and I can’t emphasize enough how ready they are to play.”
McGlinchey, considered by Mayock the top tackle prospect in the draft class, acknowledged the Hiestand factor has come up in a positive way repeatedly during the pre-draft process.
“I knew how good Harry was when I was here,” McGlinchey said of Hiestand, who left ND after six seasons in January to take the offensive line coaching job with the Chicago Bears. “But I think getting around all these people really just solidified that in the way they talk about him and the way that they say how lucky I am to be taught the game of football the right way.
“The things that he taught me have been translating over into every meeting I’ve been in so far and the things that they teach their own players. So I think I’m a large step ahead of the game in terms of that because of Harry Hiestand. He’s made me who I am today.”
Adams, a true junior as an early entry, perhaps had the most to prove after skipping the 40-yard dash and the jumps at the Combine in Indy. And did he.
Adams ran a 4.48 40, which would have been the fifth-fastest in his position group at the NFL Combine. His performances in the 60-yard shuttle (11.31 seconds) and standing broad jump (10 feet, 2 inches) also would have ranked in the top five.
And his 6.75-second clocking in the three-cone drill would have been the best in Indy in his position group.
And yet Mayock suggested Adams has a foot injury that likely will require surgery, an assertion Adams didn’t deny but didn’t exactly put a finer point on either, for the time being.
Meanwhile, Zaire, who battled a knee injury and an unfriendly depth chart during his final college season at Florida, was much more polished Thursday than was Florida State grad transfer Everett Golson last March at ND Pro Day when he returned to campus.
Zaire threw 41 passes to St. Brown, Smythe and Adams. And after overthrowing Smythe on two of the first four passes, the 6-foot, 225-pound lefty attempted, he settled in to complete 33 of his next 37.
“We got together a couple of times before today to work out together, and it was good,” St. Brown said of his former teammate. “Good quarterback, got the timing down and came in and did our thing.”
He then added, “I think I can be a deep threat, a touchdown machine.”
Morgan’s assertions about his own future were much less grandiose. He offered that several teams have talked to him about being an outside linebacker instead of playing middle linebacker, as he did for the Irish.
“A new position could be exciting,” Morgan said. “I don’t feel snubbed that I didn’t get invited to the Combine. I was in a sling then and wouldn’t have been able to do anything anyway. I just accept the opportunity I have.
“From what I know, all you need is one shot to prove yourself. But from talking to (former ND All-America linebacker) Jaylon Smith, even if you do prove yourself, you better make sure you work hard every single day, because you’re fighting for a job every single day.”