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Oct 23

Matt Nelson declined offers to stay on defense due to Lions’ long-term vision on offensive line –

ALLEN PARK -- Matt Nelson had other offers to play defensive line after going undrafted out of Iowa last year. But the Detroit Lions had a long-term plan for the 6-foot-8 defensive lineman, and it involved a lot of trust, patience and eating to make it a reality.

Nelson, who saw 46 snaps at right tackle in Detroits win last week, said the long-term vision was the selling point to sign with the Lions despite some offers to stay put. Nelson was a four-year defensive lineman at Iowa, racking up 109 total tackles, 11 for loss and eight sacks in 43 games.

It was really just a Detroit thing, Nelson said via Zoom on Thursday. "They reached out to me in the predraft process and were like: Hey, we dont really see you as a defensive lineman. Would you mind switching over to the offensive line? And kind of went over like the barebones plan of, OK, youre going to come in, essentially redshirt you. We dont see you playing at all the first year. Were going to put some weight on you. Youre going to learn how to play offensive line, and essentially go from there.

I had one or two other offers to play defensive line, and essentially, it was like, OK, this (offensive line) is my best opportunity to keep playing football for a long time. After talking with family, my agent, and everything like that, it was like OK. Theyve got a plan for, they are really willing to invest in you. I think we should do it. I think its worked out great so far.

He was granted the extended playing time due to Lions offensive tackles Tyrell Crosby and Halapoulivaati Vaitai exiting due to dehydration issues in Jacksonville. Nelson had seen the occasional rep as the extra lineman or on special teams this season, but this was his first taste of an actual role.

Related: The Lions' decision to convert ex-Iowa DE Matt Nelson into an offensive tackle pays off

Nelson played some tight end in high school but said Week 6 represented the first time he had blocked anyone since. He allowed two pressures, but the Lions ran for 180 yards and three touchdowns in the win, so not too shabby.

He said he came into Allen Park a little under 295 pounds last year and was told by former offensive line coach Jeff Davidson there would be no playing while tipping the scales under 300 pounds. So, Nelson spent the year eating, lifting weights and learning how to play offensive line on Detroits practice squad.

He said he definitely feels bigger and more like an offensive lineman after gaining 15 pounds, undergoing a body transformation.

It just felt like I was snacking all the time, he said. "There were probably three or four solid meals, but before practice, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a shake -- that sort of stuff. Eating was my job at that point in my life.

I came in at a little bit under 295 and the coach last year, (former Lions offensive line) coach (Jeff) Davidson was like, Im not going to put an offensive lineman out there under 300 pounds. And so, hes like, 'OK, youre going to have to gain weight. Youre going to have to gain strength in your core, your upper body. Essentially said, 'OK, you need to build up your body, so I met with Jeff and the coaching staff, and they essentially came up with a plan where I lifted four days a week.

While making the switch from defensive to offensive line doesnt sound ideal for someones initial professional prospects. Nelson said he wouldnt have it any other way because he might not have sniffed the field had he made the switch while at Iowa. Hes certainly not wrong in that way of thinking, with Iowas standing as a bonafide offensive line factory still holding firm.

So when I got there, Brandon Scherff and Andrew Donnal were the tackles. And then when I was a young player, it was Ike (Ike) Boettger and Boone Myers. Ike is still in the league. He plays for the Bills, and Boone was a very good tackle, Nelson said. "Then, when I was leaving, it was Alaric Jackson, who is there currently, and (Buccaneers first-round rookie tackle) Tristan Wirfs.

I dont think I would have ever played. I mean, Ive talked to them about it, and they were like, yeah, we thought about putting (you) at tackle, but we needed you on the defensive line. It was just the fit at the time. And I honestly dont know if I would have beat any of those guys out, but Im kind of glad it happened the way it did.

Its worth noting this long-winding journey to Detroits offensive line wouldnt have occurred had it not been for sound advice from his future wife while the two were in high school. Nelson was apparently toying around with the idea of focusing on basketball due to some offers from mid-majors, the Dakota schools (and) Rice.

My wife was the big one that essentially was like, Youd be stupid if quit football. And Im glad she told me that because I wouldnt be here, Nelson said. "From early on, shes always been very, very truthful and very, very blunt with me. At one point, I did think I was a great basketball player, but reality set in, and football was for me.

Yeah, my first Division I interest was from basketball schools. Thats why I thought I was good at basketball, but yeah, I got a big reality check when it turned out theres not a lot of 6-foot-8 white dudes in the NBA.

KCRG-TV in Cedar Rapids reports Nelson and his wife, Hayley, held a virtual wedding over the summer.

Related: Joe Dahl plays vital role in offensive lines impressive day in return from injury

While the Lions sold Nelson on their long-term plans, the newfound offensive lineman maintains goals for life post-football. He worked in an orthopedic and neurosurgery research lab while at Iowa and continues to do his best to stay updated on current research trends.

Lions guard Joe Dahl revealed some of Nelsons doctoral aspirations during his media availability earlier this week. Dahl talked about the job Nelson had done with the transition, saying hes always asking questions and learning with an impressive work ethic.

Ive always been interested in science ever since I was little. I either wanted to play football or I wanted to be a doctor, Nelson said. I wanted to actually be an orthopedic surgeon. For the longest time, I wanted to be a team doctor, so if I could be like a team doctor in the NFL, like that would be sweet. Throughout life, Ive always wanted to be involved with sports and all that sort of stuff, and that was another avenue to do that. I definitely realize football is going to end at some point, and so what else interested me? I wanted to be a doctor, so yeah, I took the MCAT and other stuff. Had an interview at the University of Iowa for med school, didnt get accepted, but well see how long this football thing lasts and if I go back.

Related: New OL coach Hank Fraley one of the unsung heroes of season

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Matt Nelson declined offers to stay on defense due to Lions' long-term vision on offensive line -

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