Quenton Nelson demonstrates physical dominance at Notre Dame's Pro Day

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Imagine Quenton Nelson is a freight train, and Durham Smythe is a Volkswagen Beetle recklessly abandoned on the tracks.

The train isn't capable of empathy. It doesn't feel. It doesn't love or hate or ponder its greater purpose.

It also doesn't stop.

It moves from Point A to Point B with astonishing efficiency, and it crushes any miniature hunk of metal foolishly strewn about its path.

On Thursday, in the main event of Notre Dame's annual Pro Day, Smythe was the hopeless, helpless Beetle, dutifully holding a blocking pad. Nelson was the freight train — 332 pounds of precisely sculpted fury — driving Smythe backwards into a semicircle of assembled scouts and media.

“A little more resistance!” shouted Philadelphia Eagles assistant coach Eugene Chung, essentially directing the 253-pound tight end to attempt to stop a moving train.

As they say in “Star Trek,” resistance was futile.

Turn on Nelson's tape, and it almost always is.

That's why Notre Dame's unanimous All-American left guard is considered a consensus top-10 pick in April's NFL Draft. It's why a crowd of reporters from Chicago — home of the Bears, who hold the No. 8 overall pick and tout former Irish offensive line coach Harry Hiestand — jumped on the toll road to orbit him for a rare interview.

It's why the New York Giants took him to dinner this week, and it's why the Indianapolis Colts stuck around to meet with him on Thursday.

It's why an offensive guard, of all people, has been suddenly thrust into a searing national spotlight — not that it bothers Nelson.

“I don't look at (it as) any pressure,” the senior offensive lineman said on Thursday. “I put myself in this position by working very hard, and I've earned this.”

But where will that hard work take him next? Possibly to New York, where the Giants own the No. 2 overall pick?

“That would be pretty crazy. I would love to play for the Giants,” said Nelson, who grew up in nearby Holmdel, N.J. “They're a great organization. I grew up a fan, and I'm excited to have a meeting with them later.”

Or, what about the aforementioned Bears and Hiestand, who recruited Nelson to Notre Dame and developed the group that won the Joe Moore Award — which honors college football's top offensive line — in 2017?

“That would be amazing to play for him,” Nelson said. “He's the one that made me into the player I am today. I wouldn't be here without him, or be in any conversations for the draft without him. So it would mean a lot to play for him again.”

He might not know where just yet, but it's a safe bet that Nelson will be playing — and probably starting — on an NFL offensive line come September. It's also likely he'll do so as an offensive guard, though Nelson noted that the Cincinnati Bengals have inquired about his ability to play offensive tackle.

Whatever the team, whatever the position, Nelson showed on Thursday that he's willing to adapt.

“One of the biggest things for a player is, 'Is he coachable?' ” Nelson said. “So even though it might be a different technique you're learning out there, how coachable are you? Can you adapt? Obviously me and Mike (McGlinchey) showed that (in drills) today, that we're very coachable and we're still young and ready to keep on learning.”

Despite his collegiate dominance, and despite the countless draft analysts praising nearly every play he's put on tape, Nelson remains focused on the next step of his evolution.

In the NFL, after all, the Beetles will be a whole lot bigger.

“I can grow a lot,” Nelson said. “I've been developed into a great player, and there's still things I need to work on, especially with my consistency.

“In everything I do, in every little movement, every little teaching point and technique, I can improve immensely and I look forward to doing that working up to the draft and all the way through my career.”



Twitter: @mikevorel

Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson run drills during the Notre Dame Pro Day workouts Thursday, March 22, 2018 at Guglielmino Athletics Complex and Loftus Sports Center. Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA