Thursday, March 08, 2018

The offseason’s underrated hire

From Albert Breer's "Four Downs"
March 8, 2018

2. The offseason’s underrated hire. We don’t talk much about position coaches here. But I’m going to give you one that I believe has a chance to be a big-time difference-maker for his first-time head coach: new Bears line coach Harry Hiestand. Matt Nagy did incredibly well to poach Hiestand, who’d been a target for a number of guys interviewing for jobs in January, from Notre Dame. And his star guard of last year, Quenton Nelson, reminded me of that last week at the combine.

I asked Nelson how, as an elite offensive line talent, he wound up playing guard and not tackle. Nelson answered, “Left tackle, we had Ronnie Stanley. Right tackle, we had Mike McGlinchey. Center, Nick Martin. Right guard, Steve Elmer, who was a very good player. And there was a hole in the left guard spot that I competed for and I ended up playing there.” Think about that. Stanley was the sixth pick in the 2016 draft, and is now Baltimore’s left tackle. Martin was the 50th pick that year, and is the Texans’ center. McGlinchey is likely to join Nelson in the first round of this year’s draft. And Elmer actually decided to forgo his final year of eligibility at Notre Dame, after starting for two years, to pursue a career in politics. Of the five, only Nelson was a Top 100 recruit coming out of high school.

That’s a staggering record of development,
and doesn’t account for Zack Martin (Nick’s older brother), who left Notre Dame the year that Nelson arrived, and has grown into the NFL’s best guard. We’ve seen the importance of line coaches the last few years, of course. Jeff Stoutland’s work last year in Philly—remember the Eagles lost Jason Peters for the year—helped the Eagles win it all and earned the ex-Alabama assistant a promotion to run-game coordinator. The difference Dante Scarnecchia makes in New England is well-documented, and Tony Sparano was huge in helping the Vikings meld new piece to fix their front last fall. Likewise, it looks like the Bears got a good one.

In fact, I hit up Nagy on this on Wednesday. He and Hiestand didn’t know each other before Nagy assembled his staff, and as first impressions have gone, the new Chicago boss put it like this: “He impresses me more and more every day.”

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