INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Their eyes light up whenever the name’s mentioned.
Quenton Nelson has that type of lasting impact, even when he’s not in the room.
Ask Alex Bars, the yin to Nelson’s yang at Notre Dame. Ask Miles Boykin, the Irish’s big-body wideout who benefited from the up-front dominance.
As Nelson was establishing himself as an All-American left guard in 2017, Bars was the Irish’s no-frills right guard. When the Indianapolis Colts made Nelson the sixth-overall pick in the 2018 draft and he became an instant sensation – first-team All-Pro, for cryin’ out loud – Bars slid over and filled his vacancy.
“Me and him competed back and forth,” Bars said. “We were great, best friends. To see him go about all of his business for the four years was phenomenal for me.”
“Got to learn a ton of things from him. Still learning things from him.”
Bars and Nelson have maintained their relationship, and recently hooked up via cell phone as Bars was preparing for the on-going NFL Scouting Combine. At one point, the conversation drifted to the possibility of a reunion at the professional level.
“It would be the Bash Brothers back together, man,” he said. “Q and I have talked about that. It was like, ‘How sweet would it be if we played together with the Colts?’”
“That would be friggin’ awesome.”
Boykin’s demeanor similarly spiked when the conversation turned to Quenton Nelson. Like Bars, Boykin met with the Colts during the Combine’s get-to-know-you sessions.
“I was talking with the Colts and they talked about how Q came in and changed the culture immediately,’’ Boykin said. “That’s the type of players you get when you go to Notre Dame in the draft.”
“You get players who are going to change your team for the better.”
Last week, coach Frank Reich reminded everyone of Nelson’s influence as the much-hyped rookie. It offered a window into what general manager Chris Ballard and his personnel staff look for when evaluating the next wave of young talent.
It reaffirmed the importance the Colts place on bringing in the right type of character.
“It’s incredible,” Reich said. “I mean, Quenton, what he came in and did last year being the No. 6 pick, being as great of a player as he was, but just the leader that he was. Even though here is this guy who has supreme confidence, but yet he is just a team player at his heart.”
“Deep down he is a humble guy. He just wants what is best for the team and he just wants to keep getting better. The best players I have been around are guys like Quenton, who never think they are good enough.”
“You ask Quenton, he is not good enough. You ask Andrew (Luck), he is not good enough. ‘I got to get better.’ You just listen to those guys talk, that’s what they all say. That is contagious.”
It’s much too early in the process to align specific players with the Colts’ respective draft slots. They possess nine overall selections, including four in the top 89: 26, 34, 59 and 89.
However, several of Notre Dame’s prospects would address Colts’ needs: Bars as mid-to late-round depth for the offensive line; Boykin as a mid-round addition with size (6-4, 220 pounds) at wideout; and Jerry Tillery, projected to be a late first-round/early second-round defensive lineman.
Bars’ situation is more complicated than his draft-eligible teammates. Five games after succeeding Nelson at left guard, he tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee.
“I’m doing great,’’ Bars said. “Four-and-a-half months out of surgery and the knee’s doing really well. Running, squatting, dead-lifting. I’ve had zero setbacks, so it’s really good.”
“When I did my medical examinations, I was like, ‘Look at it. Do whatever you want to do. My knee feels great.’ I’m very confident in my knee.”
Bars’ objective is to be ready for his team’s OTAs’ in mid-June. He expects to be ready for training camp and compete for a spot at guard, center or tackle.
“Obviously injuries happen,” he said. “It is what it is. It’s part of the game. I tried to be as positive about it as I could.”
“I’m going to come back from it stronger, faster, better.”
And, who knows, perhaps once again as Quenton Nelson’s teammate.
“That would be sweet,” Bars said.