Reviewing the Redshirts is an off-season series meant to resurrect discussion around the current Irish freshmen who did not play in 2014.
There were 11 players this past year who retained a year of eligibility and today we take a look at the second highest rated offensive lineman to sign with Notre Dame in the Brian Kelly era.
OG, Quenton Nelson
Hometown: Holmdel, New Jersey
247Sports COMPOSITE RANKING:
4-star, No. 5 OT, No. 2 NJ, No. 62 USA, 0.9678 Score
Need at Position: High
Expected Spot on 2015 Depth Chart: First Team Left Guard
Other than Jaylon Smith there might not be a prospect that was more adored by our staff over the past several years when it came time to hand out grades following National Signing Day. Here's my review of Nelson last winter:
Nelson's definitely in the conversation as the top player in the class. He's received rave reviews at all-star camps which is always encouraging. I actually think he's needs a decent amount of work as a pass blocker but he's already got great feet and will get up to speed at the college level very quickly. He sometimes is a little slow out of the blocks but let's his quick feet re-settle his body and dominate as a blocker. His physicality and athleticism is the best of Notre Dame's haul by a good bit. He might not contribute as a true freshman like Steve Elmer, but I think he's a very similar prospect who offers the same type of versatility but projects long-term as a blue-chip tackle.
The comparison to Elmer is apt but not because of the reasons I once believed. However, each prospect came to Notre Dame as highly touted tackles and look to be settling in long-term at the guard position.
If you glance at Nelson's Composite rankings they're outstanding but perhaps not overwhelmingly amazing to immediately separate himself from the dozens of 4-star linemen that have passed through South Bend over the years. He was only given 5-star status by Rivals and a national rank of 175th by ESPN dragged his score down quite a bit whereas Nelson was inside the top 75 on all the other sites. Be that as it may, he was still the Composite 62nd player in the country with only the following linemen ahead of him:
- Cameron Robinson- Alabama
- Damian Prince- Maryland
- Damien Mama- USC
- KC McDermott- Miami
- Roderick Taylor- Ole Miss
- Jamarco Jones- Ohio State
That's a tremendous group and while Matt Hegarty remains statistically the highest ranked lineman of the Kelly era I think in principle that award goes to Nelson. He's in the conversation with those classmates above as one of the best from 2014 more so that any other Irish recruit since 2010.
One of the discussions surrounding Nelson heading into last year was whether he would ultimately burn his redshirt. Some said no way not with the depth on the offensive line and others said it was a distinct possibility. Almost immediately once summer camp opened in August, Nelson was in the two-deep on the line and impressing the coaching staff and media members during open practices.
Notre Dame began the season and broke camp with Ronnie Stanley at left tackle, Matt Hegarty at left guard, Nick Martin at center, Christian Lombard at right guard, and Steve Elmer at right tackle while Connor Hanratty and Mike McGlinchey were pushing hard for minutes as backups and Hunter Bivin moved into an emergency role.
Mike McGlinchey will back up both tackle spots. Hunter Bivin backing up tackle and guard. I.e. SAVE QUENTON NELSON’S RED SHIRT— Irish Illustrated (@PeteSampson_) August 26, 2014
Ultimately, the depth won out and Nelson stayed on the bench. Even when the Martin/Hegarty combo struggled on the interior and those positions were flipped, mixed with Hanratty suffering concussion problems, things never got bad enough where the Irish felt the need to thrust Nelson onto the field as a true freshman.
Heading into 2015 some roster issues still need fleshing out as Nick Martin is expected to return for his 5th season and Matt Hegarty will be with the program through spring practice and a high priority to stick around for his graduate year if room opens up on the scholarship chart. Therefore, barring any injuries the Irish will be opening practice next month with the same starters on the line as used during the bowl game: Stanley (LT), Martin (LG), Hegarty (C), Elmer (RG), and McGlinchey (RT).
The consensus among the Notre Dame media seems to be that Nelson will start this fall. Which means if he does it likely happens in one of three ways:
- Hegarty doesn't come back & Martin moves back to center
- Hegarty comes back, Martin moves to center, Hegarty becomes a backup at center
- Hegarty comes back, Martin moves to center, and Nelson beats out Hegarty at guard
Any of these situations seem like real possibilities as does Nelson eventually beating out Hegarty at guard after a few games. Besides the talent of Nelson you also have to wonder just how long a combo of Hegarty and Martin are going to last when they're both under 300 pounds. One of the main reasons why a lot of people see Nelson becoming starter in 2015 is because of his size and strength and how much that is needed up front.
Then again, it's not exactly a common occurrence for a redshirt freshman to move a 5th-year senior with double-digit career starts to the bench. I think Nelson is the type of talent to pull it off but we shouldn't be surprised if he waits a little longer.