SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix III found himself in a position he’s never seen or prepared for before: going head-to-head in a football drill with an NFL head coach.
On one side of the line, Nix, the 6-foot-2, 331-pound nose tackle. On the other, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, a man who could draft Nix on May 8.
Nix’s conundrum: Go all out and risk injuring Tomlin?
They were not actually grappling, mind you — Tomlin was asked by San Francisco 49ers scout Scott Brown, who ran the drills, to stand there as a dummy.
For some players, that situation might have been awkward. Nix saw it as an opportunity.
"I heard Mike Tomlin liked big thighs,” Nix said. “I tried to show them off for him. That’s why I wore my tights.”
Nix then turned serious.
“It wasn’t intimidating. I just wanted to look in his eyes and show him I am ready.”
Nix and his fellow Irish draft-eligible teammates — the healthy ones, anyway — worked through their two-hour pro day that was witnessed by all 32 NFL teams, along with two head coaches (Tomlin and Jacksonville’s Gus Bradley) and three general managers.
It was a chance for them to watch Nix run the 40-yard dash and work through positional drills at his new weight of 331 pounds, the same he was at the NFL combine, nearly 20 pounds less than he played most of his Notre Dame career.
“He moved well. That weight suits him,” Bradley told Shutdown Corner. “We [the Jaguars contingent] were just talking about what he’d be in our scheme. Probably a zero- or a one-[technique] nose, a hold-the-post player.
“But he’s spirited, isn’t he? A lot of energy out there today. Those things all jump out at you.”
Nix stood out for a big chunk of his college career because of his massive size, quickness and playmaking ability. And, of course, his equally big personality and energy. But Nix ended his career on a low note, undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery on Nov. 21 after attempting to come back from a painful knee injury.
Although his draft buzz tumbled after being mentioned as a top-10 possibility, Nix’s lost weight and good movement, which were on display again Thursday, appear to have him back on the rise.
“It doesn’t feel hurt,” he said. “I am running around good. I lost weight, so I feel like that probably helped a little bit.”
Nix has struggled with his weight — even reaching as high as 370. But he believes that some dietary changes and better conditioning before the combine served him well.
What exactly was he eating?
“When I first got to [EXOS training facility in Arizona] I could have a burrito,” Nix said. “But the next day, they cut out all my carbs. I got eggs, almonds and a parfait with granola and Greek yogurt, which is disgusting. I ate that stuff for two months.
“Then I had a lunch salad, a dinner salad, and if I got hungry they gave me a snack salad.”
Nix’s weight might have changed, but his personality isn’t going anywhere. Asked if he worried about his playful style (his Twitter handle is @1IrishChocolate) turning off some of the NFL’s harder-edged, tougher coaches, Nix said he planned to stay the same.
“I am just going to be me. I am not changing for anybody,” he said. “If they want me to be serious … I know when it’s time to get down and dirty. If I need to shut it down for a bit, I can do that. But I am just going to be myself in the locker room. I listen, get critiqued, try to evolve my game, but I'll still make a joke.
“I think me being a people person, that helps the team out. You can’t be serious all the time. I know when I need to be serious.”
He was serious when it was time for pro day drills. After deciding to run the 40 last minute just for the heck of it, Nix put to work the techniques he has picked up from noted pass-rush guru Chuck Smith, who tutors draft prospects in Atlanta.
Nix was pushed from start to finish by Brown through a gantlet of drills, and given that only three Notre Dame linemen were working on Thursday (teammate Stephon Tuitt is rehabbing from a recent surgery), it didn’t give them much time to rest in between.
When congratulated for his work by ESPN analyst Mike Golic, Nix told him, “Man, this made the combine feel like a cakewalk!”
But the highlight of the day was going into the breech against Tomlin. Nix and his tighter frame flashed by the Steelers coach four separate times, carrying those 331 pounds well. It’s no surprise — Nix once ran a 4.8-second 40 at 285 pounds in the 10th grade.
“And I haven’t been that weight since,” he said. “Not sure I will be anytime soon, either.”
Nix feels great now. Not only is his weight down, but he has overcome the depression that plagued him when his season ended last fall, and he’s ready to prove that he’s still worthy of being a first-round pick.
“I tried to come back and play in the Pitt game, I went down during the game, and my head was all messed up about it,” he said. “I talked to my teammates … I talked to everyone about it, and they all just encouraged me.
“I am just happy. I am enjoying this all [again]. I am in a good place.”
With the workout over and sweat beading down his face, Nix admitted that a nap sounded good. What, no celebratory meal?
“I am going to Five Guys [Burgers]!” he said. “Just kidding.”
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