By Wes Hodkiewicz and Mike Spofford
INDIANAPOLIS – Offensive linemen and running backs were the first groups of prospects to meet with the media at the NFL Scouting Combine, but Seattle general manager John Schneider was the last team executive to hold a news conference, and he leads off this edition of “5 things.”
1. Ted Thompson ‘did it his own way’: Thompson may not have made the trip down to the combine, but the presence of the former Packers GM continues to be felt within the halls of the Indianapolis Convention Center.
For one of his protégés, Seahawks GM John Schneider, this year’s trip to Indianapolis hasn’t been quite the same without Thompson in attendance.
After 13 years as the Packers’ general manager, Thompson moved into a senior advisor role within the personnel department this offseason. New Packers GM Brian Gutekunst told reporters on Tuesday that Thompson had stayed back in Green Bay this week.
While Schneider and Thompson are both offshoots from Ron Wolf’s tree of NFL executives, Schneider has been vocal about how much Thompson has influenced him both as a football administrator and individual.
The two shared an NFL personnel department three times in their careers – under Wolf in Green Bay from 1993-96, with Seattle in 2000 and then again with the Packers from 2005-09 after Thompson was hired as general manager.
Thompson’s stewardship of the franchise ushered in an era of sustained success. His tenure was highlighted by the Packers’ Super Bowl XLV triumph, six NFC North titles and a franchise-record eight consecutive playoff appearances.
Four executives – Schneider, Reggie McKenzie (Oakland), John Dorsey (Kansas City/Cleveland) and Gutekunst – rose to GM roles after holding prominent positions in his front office.
Schneider, a native of De Pere, Wis., got emotional when asked Friday about Thompson’s legacy and the role he played in maintaining the winning tradition Wolf re-established with the Packers during the 1990s.
“Enormous,” said Schneider, stopping to hold back tears. “He’s a special guy and he did it his own way. His personality, his quiet, ethical, great character, high character. We miss him down here, ya know?”
2. Quenton Nelson shows no mercy: The Notre Dame guard, a rare interior offensive lineman rated as a potential top-five overall pick, gave an entertaining description of himself as a blocker.
“My mindset is being dominant,” he said. “I want to dominate all my opponents, take their will away to play each play and take it past the whistle.
“Yeah, I would consider myself a nasty player. I want to play nasty. I play clean, though.”
Nelson said one of his first formal interviews at the combine was with the Packers, but it’s doubtful he’ll still be on the board when Green Bay is on the clock at No. 14 overall. The Packers do have an open starting job at right guard, with veteran Jahri Evans a pending free agent.
Guards don’t carry this type of lofty draft status often. In 2013, North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper was taken seventh overall, and Alabama’s Chance Warmack was chosen three picks later.
In 2015, Iowa’s Brandon Scherff, who played left tackle his entire college career, was chosen No. 5 overall by Washington to play guard from the get-go. Fellow Notre Dame alum Zack Martin, a friend whose advice Nelson appreciates, was taken 16th by Dallas in 2014.
Nelson is confident he deserves to be in the top-five conversation, in part because quarterbacks can have a harder time escaping pressure in their face as opposed to pressure off the edge.
“That’s what I give, is a pocket to step up in,” Nelson said.
“When you look at the guys dominating the NFL – Aaron Donald, Geno Atkins, Fletcher Cox – they’re working the interior guys. You need guys to stop them, and I’m one of those guys.”
3. Saquon Barkley welcomes becoming the key to a rebuilding project: The dynamic Penn State running back, being touted as a potential No. 1 overall pick, would have no qualms about going to a struggling franchise to help turn it around.
“To go to a team like that, that’s had a couple rough years, they might just be a couple pieces away,” Barkley said. “You want to be part of something like that, something bigger than yourself. You want to leave a legacy.”
Barkley certainly did that for the Nittany Lions, compiling over 5,000 yards from scrimmage (3,843 rushing, 1,195 receiving) and 51 touchdowns over three college seasons. At 5-11, he weighed in at 232 pounds at the combine.
“I don’t care if I’m drafted 1, 5, 72 or the last pick,” he said. “I’m going to come in with my head low, ready to work. It’s not going to change me.
“I’ve seen mock this, mock that, but you can’t get caught up in it.”
Young running backs have taken the NFL by storm in recent years, with the Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott leading the league in rushing as a rookie in 2016, and the Saints’ Alvin Kamara becoming a huge dual-threat back that helped New Orleans return to the playoffs.
“It gives you confidence. It gives you a lot of confidence,” Barkley said. “Especially a guy like Ezekiel Elliott (from Ohio State). He’s one of the top guys in the league already, and he came from the same conference I come from, the Big Ten. His game was able to translate to the next level, and I hope the same for mine.”
4. It’s a family affair for another Notre Dame prospect: Mike McGlinchey has been getting the question since he was a teenager, so why would the NFL Scouting Combine be any different?
What’s it like to be Matt Ryan’s cousin?
McGlinchey doesn’t mind. It comes with the territory, being raised in a football family and having kinship with an NFL MVP quarterback.
A multiple-time captain at Notre Dame, the 6-foot-8, 312-pound tackle prospect said he’s leaned on his cousin for advice throughout the draft process.
“It’s kind of been the ‘Mike McGlinchey, Matt Ryan’s first cousin’ since I was in high school. But I’m very thankful for that,” McGlinchey said.
“Matt has guided me every step of the way, whether he knew it or not. And just watching the way Matt goes about his business, the way that he works, the way that people respect him is something that I’ve always worked for. He’s been my football hero ever since I was a little kid.”
5. Paternal motivation pushes Arkansas center: Frank Ragnow thought long and hard about declaring for the NFL Draft a year ago before tragedy struck his family.
After the Razorbacks’ 52-10 win over Alcorn State back in October 2016, Ragnow was informed his father, Jon, had died of a heart attack. The two had an inseparable bond centered on football, which ultimately led to Ragnow playing out his junior year and then returning to Fayetteville this past season.
“Toughest moment of my life. I think it pushed me,” Ragnow said. “I’ve really had to lean on football and lean on my teammates and things like that. I think I’m just trying to make him proud. Every day I think of how can I make my dad proud?”