Where it stands with Matt Nelson is defensive end.
The 6-8, 255-pounder will start his career at the University of Iowa as a defensive end. “Yes, from everything I’ve heard so far, it’s defensive end,” Nelson said.
During his signing day news conference, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz was asked if Nelson reminded him of former Iowa offensive tackle Riley Reiff, who came to Iowa as a defensive end, moved fairly quickly to offensive tackle and was a first-round draft pick for the Detroit Lions.
“I’ve read about him and a lot of things about him,” Ferentz said. “To answer that last part, no. He’s not like Riley, and believe me, we’d take another Riley if we could find one. But it’s interesting. I was talking to someone from a pretty prestigious school who thought he was as good a tight end prospect as they’ve had. His high school coach relayed that to me. I could see that. But all that being said, we think he’s going to be a good defensive end.”
That school might’ve been Stanford, which was looking at Nelson as a tight end. So, defensive end, tight end, offensive tackle.
Ferentz said he and Iowa’s staff saw what they needed to see during camp last summer.
“Our level of appreciation for him went even higher when he came to camp in June,” Ferentz said. “He didn’t have to. He was committed and had a scholarship. He came here and competed. It’s one thing to be around players and try to get a feel for them when you get a sense about who they are and just the way he carried himself and the way he wanted to be coached and compete that day, it was really impressive to us. Our intentions are wholly to keep him on that defensive end position, and we’re just awfully excited to have him join the class.”
Part of the defensive line deal is the relationship the Nelsons built with Iowa defensive line coach Reese Morgan. Plus, Nelson, being from Cedar Rapids, built a huge comfort level with Iowa.
“More than I can count,” Nelson said when asked how many unofficial visits he’d taken Iowa City. “I’ve been down there so many times, whether it was spring practice or bowl practice. I’ve gone down for four games. I’ve been down there quite a bit.”
[BTW, Iowa has offered Brady Reiff, Riley's younger brother, who is a defensive end at Parkston High School in South Dakota. He's 6-4, 215 pounds.]
Basics: Cedar Rapids Xavier High School, 6-8, 255, defensive end
Dent the depth chart in ’14? — Probably not. Let’s leave in the surprise element, but Nelson’s body will need some build to it. He’s not a small guy. 255 pounds is 255 pounds, but he’ll probably need top-end strength that you can’t get in a high school weight room and when you’re playing a couple of different sports.
Off-the-top-of-my-head Hawkeye comparison — Robert Gallery (Sorry, that’s just who I see. He could be a Robert Gallery on a D-line. You’d take that.)
ESPN.com scouting snippet — Nelson has great length with the athleticism needed for defensive end position at the BCS level of competition. Over time his frame should be able to support additional bulk which will improve his upper body playing strength. We see the flexibility, balance and agility necessary to move through traffic while showing good range to the sideline. . . . This prospect is a tough customer who plays with good intensity; we see an effort guy with long pursuit productivity; is a strong wrap tackler who runs well enough to contribute on special teams. . . . Nelson also shows potential as a blocking tight end; his balance and agility allows him to play on his feet when reaching for leverage and working to the linebacker level. Prior to challenging for playing time at the BCS level of play some time and most likely a red shirt year will be needed to grow physically while polishing his technical skills.
What Iowa said . . .
Head coach Kirk Ferentz on offensive tackle being a thin position for the Hawkeyes (not saying, just saying) — “Yeah, it was. If there is one position or one prospect, there is one guy that we had targeted in particular, we hoped we would have landed at that position. So that is the bad news. The good news is I think moving forward there is a really good opportunity to get some players that can fortify that position here in the year coming and recruiting, so I’m not panicking. Also I’ve seen enough behind the scenes to feel like we’re going to be OK. He didn’t get any stars, but the biggest recruit we got was Brandon Scherff. Christmas came early this year. I don’t know if I’m allowed to say that as a public employee, but it was the best thing that happened in the recruiting season, with all due respect to the guys that are joining us next year.”
Iowa recruiting coordinator Eric Johnson on defensive end for Nelson: “Without question. That’s what we brought him in as. Big, long kid. I actually got to work with him at camp a bunch at the defensive end position. He’s one of those guys who you tell something and he takes coaching and does it right from when you talk to him. Very athletic. He can run. We’re excited about him. He’s a good player.”
Do you worry about kids whose positions are kind of up in the air, not within the program but on the outside world (I’m mostly referring to my blog, hello!): “I don’t think we’ve ever talked offensive tackle with him. From day 1, we’ve been recruiting him as a defensive end.”
Defensive end like Matt, that’s a guy who can cover a lot of ground: “He has good get-off and he has good speed. He can cover both ends of that. He can reach out and grab you and he can run you down.”
What Rivals.com said . . .
Midwest recruiting coordinator Josh Helmholdt: “When I saw him last year, he was really lean, almost skinny on his frame. He’s got such a long frame. Once he fills out, he’s going to be a totally different player. Does he play tight end? Does he play defensive end? Sounds like defensive end is what they’re looking at him for. It could be a 6-7, 290-pound defensive end. With that size, playing a 5 technique, I think that could be a really good spot for him.”
What I think (FWIW, obviously) . . .
From the YouTubes, Nelson plays with his head up and was strong enough to hold his ground and sort through blockers until he found the ball carrier. It looked like his reach surprised runners. They thought they had space, but then they didn’t and it was too late. He also won speed rush a lot, going by these highlights, which is impressive for a tall athlete. He didn’t have leverage on a lot of tackles, but had enough quickness to cover the ground needed. D-line coaches at Iowa will want him to stay lower and come out of his stance with a flatter back.