Notre Dame

Why 'nasty' Quenton Nelson could be worth the No. 8 pick for the Bears

Why 'nasty' Quenton Nelson could be worth the No. 8 pick for the Bears

INDIANAPOLIS — Maybe we all should listen to New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman as the debate rages in Chicago about if an interior offensive lineman — specifically, Notre Dame mauler Quenton Nelson — is worth a top-10 pick. 

“At the end of the day, if he’s a great player, he’s a great player — it doesn’t matter what position it is,” Gettleman said this week at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. “… Sometimes I think it gets lost in the sauce that football is the ultimate team game. You blow a whistle and 11 guys have to go out there, both offense and defense and special teams. Everybody has to understand that every player is important.”

Gettleman offered this perspective when asked if the No. 2 overall pick — where his Giants sit — is too high to draft a running back like Penn State standout Saquon Barkley. But let’s apply the same logic to the Bears at No. 8. 

Is Nelson a great player? By just about every account, yeah, he is. Take this description of what it’s like to play with Nelson offered by former Notre Dame running back Josh Adams: It’s like “running behind a tow truck.” Mike McGlinchey, the ex-Irish left tackle who could be a first-round pick, too, said Nelson is “about as nasty as they come.” 

Don’t believe them? Here’s some tape: 

There’s little doubting Nelson’s ability here at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis — that’s not the issue, certainly not for a Bears team that hired Nelson’s college position coach, Harry Hiestand, to coach its offensive line. It wouldn’t be a surprise if re-uniting Hiestand and Nelson produced a decade of stability with a handful of Pro Bowl selections sprinkled in there. 

The question, then, for the Bears — and the seven teams picking ahead of them — is this: Is it worth it to take a guard in the first 10 picks of a draft, even if he's great player?

In the last 20 years, 33 offensive linemen have been top-10 draft picks. Three of those were guards; the other 30 were tackles. Some, like two-time Washington Pro Bowler Brandon Scherff, played tackle in college but were quickly moved to guard once they were drafted. But the point is: It’s extremely rare for a guard to be selected as a top-10 pick. That’s the nature of a position where the thought is it’s easier to find solid players than it is at tackle. 

Nelson, though, offered this defense Thursday of himself for being, specifically, a top-five pick:

“I think I should be talked in that regard, the top five conversation because you have guys that are dominating the NFL right now in Aaron Donald and Geno Atkins, Fletcher Cox that have just been working on interior guys and you need guys to stop them, and I think I’m one of those guys,” Nelson said. “You talk to quarterbacks, and they say if a D-end gets on the edge, that’s fine, they can step up in the pocket and they can throw, a lot of quarterbacks if given the opportunity can do that. That’s what I give is a pocket to step up in, and I think I also help the offense establish the run through my nastiness and establishing the run also opens up the passing game, so I think it’s a good choice.”

That’s a pretty good sales pitch. But maybe there’s another way Nelson can sell himself as a top pick: Does he have the flexibility to play tackle?

Nelson said no teams have talked to him about switching from guard to tackle yet, but he was recruited to Notre Dame as a tackle. More importantly: Nelson, while redshirting in 2014, practiced as a tackle under Hiestand’s watch; maybe he would’ve stayed there had Notre Dame not had two future first-round picks as its starting tackles in 2015 (Ronnie Stanley, who was the sixth overall pick in 2016, and McGlinchey, who’s likely a first-round pick in 2018). 

“I’m definitely more comfortable at guard, that’s the position that I’ve played in college for three years,” Nelson said. “But what I do have is the fundamentals and characteristics to play any position on the offensive line.”

So perhaps the Bears could view Nelson as someone who fills an immediate need at guard, but later in his career could move to tackle. That would certainly up his value and lessen questions about taking an interior offensive lineman so high. 

But wherever Nelson winds up, he’s a good bet to be successful not just because of his physical traits, but because of his approach to every aspect of the game — film study, meetings, practice, you name it. Nelson is one of those football junkies who has the elite physical traits to become great. 

His nasty streak certainly helps, too. 

“As a blocker my mindset is being dominant,” Nelson said. ”I want to dominate all my opponents and take their will away to play the game by each play and finishing them past the whistle. … Yeah, I would consider myself a nasty player.”

It's official: Blackhawks-Bruins to play at Notre Dame Stadium in 2019 Winter Classic


It's official: Blackhawks-Bruins to play at Notre Dame Stadium in 2019 Winter Classic

It’s official: The Blackhawks are headed back outdoors.

The NHL announced that the 2019 Winter Classic will be held at Notre Dame Stadium, featuring the Blackhawks and Boston Bruins on Jan. 1.

"The Blackhawks and Bruins, two of our most historic franchises, will be meeting outdoors for the first time at the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. "Notre Dame Stadium, with its capacity approaching 80,000, will provide an ideal setting for this ground-breaking event and will host the largest live audience ever to witness a game by either of these teams."

"The Chicago Blackhawks are honored to be participating in this marquee event at an iconic venue like Notre Dame Stadium," Blackhawks President & CEO John McDonough said in a statement. "The University of Notre Dame has strong alumni roots in both Chicago and Boston, and, with an established rivalry between the Blackhawks and Bruins, fans will be treated to an exciting game in a unique atmosphere. We appreciate the invitation to the game and look forward to what will be a great day for both franchises and the National Hockey League."

It's the sixth time the Blackhawks will be playing outdoors, and their league-leading fourth Winter Classic. The Blackhawks are 1-4-0 in outdoor games, and are winless in three Winter Classic games.

Chicago's only outdoor win came against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2014 Stadium Series Classic, a 5-1 victory at Soldier Field.

It looks like the Blackhawks are back in the Winter Classic


It looks like the Blackhawks are back in the Winter Classic

The Blackhawks are reportedly headed back to their home away from home: The Great Outdoors.

According to BarstoolChief, the Blackhawks will square off with the Boston Bruins in the 2019 NHL Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium.

An official announcement is expected to be made later this month, per BarstoolChief.

The 2019 Winter Classic will mark the Blackhawks sixth appearance in at outdoor game. The Blackhawks hold a 1-4 record in such games with their last victory coming against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2014 Stadium Series at Soldier Field.

It's no surprise that Notre Dame was chosen as the home site for the 2019 Winter Classic, considering the school's rumored interest and the Blackhawks holding a portion of their training camp in South Bend.

Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick told the Chicago Tribune in 2016 that the University had interest in hosting an NHL game.

"Once the Campus Crossroads project is finished we do anticipate that Notre Dame Stadium will be an excellent venue for more than just Notre Dame football games, but no additional events have yet been scheduled," Swarbrick said. "And while we would certainly have an interest in exploring the possibility of playing host to outdoor hockey games, we have not had any discussions with the NHL about doing so."

The two previous sites for an outdoor game that featured the Blackhawks as a home team were Wrigley Field (2009) and Soldier Field (2014).