SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Redshirt freshman left guard Quenton Nelson is providing an important ingredient to Notre Dame’s offensive line mix.
The former five-star recruit, along with right tackle Mike McGlinchey, has brought an aggressiveness to a group led by veterans Ronnie Stanley, Nick Martin and Steve Elmer that's paved the way for running back C.J. Prosise to average over seven and a half yards per carry through three games.
“They bring a nasty attitude and a toughness to that group where you're now met with Elmer, Martin and Ronnie, that have a lot of game experience,” Kelly said. “You have two tough guys now that kind of mold that group into an experienced and tough group.
“So I think they bring a lot to the group. The brains of the operation is still in those veterans. It's still in those three guys that have played a lot, and they kind of set the tone for the group — the attention to detail, holding them to high standards. But there is now a toughness to that group."
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McGlinchey started last year’s Music City Bowl win over LSU, while Nelson made his first collegiate appearance in Notre Dame’s season opener against Texas earlier this month. Nelson competed with redshirt freshman Alex Bars for the team’s No. 1 left guard job during spring practice and preseason camp, though it was apparent as early as March the Red Bank, N.J., native was in line to start.
Nelson is listed at 6-foot-5, 325 pounds, though Kelly said he’s closer to 340 pounds. He’s surprisingly quick for his size, Kelly said, though his ability to overpower and maul opposing defensive linemen and linebackers is his best trait.
“Q is a brawler,” linebacker Joe Schmidt said. “He's somebody that loves to get in there. He's a tough, hard-nosed, nasty football player, and that's what you want on the offensive line.”
Nelson said he’s still figuring out when to be aggressive and when to hang back a bit, which is all part of the learning curve of being a first-year starter. But he’s comfortable knowing his mentality is starting at a good spot, instead of being timid.
“I think it’s better to have too much aggression than too little,” Nelson said.
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Its strong offensive line was chief among the reasons why Notre Dame remained confident it could run the ball even with the losses of running back Tarean Folston and quarterback Malik Zaire in the season’s first two weeks. The aggression brought by Nelson — even if it’s a little too raw at times — has been an important part of that success up front.
“He can bench press a truck,” Kelly said. “He's big, he's strong, he's physical, he's got toughness but he moves his feet really well.
“That's really probably the one thing that I don't say surprises you, but when you see a kid that big, it's hard to envision a kid running out the way he runs. He runs exceedingly well for his size.”