NU Sports activities – Skip Report: A Dozen Issues from Northwestern’s Annual Professional Day

By Skip Myslenski Special Contributor


1. Quarterback Clayton Thorson had a goal going into it. “I was hoping for 50-for-50,” he later said with a chuckle, referring to the throws he would make. “I was close. Forty-eight or 49. Happy about it.”

“He was throwing the ball well,” said wide receiver Flynn Nagel, one of those Thorson threw to during his drill. “It should have been 50 completions, honestly. He was lights out today.”

2. Thorson was not about to get into guessing where he might go come the NFL draft. “That’s for all the coaches and scouts and GMs to decide. I’m just controlling what I can,” he said when asked to do that. But he didn’t hesitate when asked what the team that drafted him would be getting. “First and foremost, they’d be getting a guy with a lot of experience,” he said here. “The last two years I wasn’t surprised by anything that defenses threw my way.”

3. Another bit of history that has impressed the scouts was Thorson’s ability to come back from knee surgery on Jan. 8 to play in the Wildcats Aug. 31 season opener at Purdue. “They really respected that and I like to hear that,” he said. “But I didn’t do it for them. I did it for the team and to play.”

“When they (the scouts) came through in August,” remembered Pat Fitzgerald, “we weren’t able to tell them he was going to play in the opener because we didn’t know. When they came back through (later) they were blown away by the way he played coming back from the injury he’d had. That again shows you his ability to overcome adversity. That’s what you get in this game, especially at the quarterback position. There are a ton of guys who think they can do it and only a handful at the championship level. His ability to get back from that injury and then lead us to a championship shows he has that kind of pedigree.”

4. Before this Pro Day, down in Indianapolis, Thorson had participated in the NFL Combine, and here he avowed that he was not surprised by anything that he faced at either of those exercises. “I felt very prepared for everything,” he said. “A lot of former players came in and shared their knowledge with us. So I felt very prepared for the whole process.”

5. But? “But coaches come up with different questions,” he said with a laugh. “I haven’t had crazy, weird questions like some other guys. (Former Duke quarterback) Daniel Jones was telling me he had one question, ‘If you had six coins and and you have to make 48 cents, what are they?’ He got it. Duke graduate, smart guy. Someone asked me, ‘There’s number 32, number 52, number 54. Who were the best players in those numbers?'”

6. This day and this stage of his journey and this opportunity that he now embraces— all, with good reason, are appreciated by Thorson, a wise man blessed with perspective. “It means a lot,” he would say. “I think about where I was at this point a year ago. I was wondering, ‘Am I even going to play next year?’ Everyone was telling me, ‘Twelve months, 12 months.’ It just goes to show, you’ve got all these plans the Lord’s like, ‘Look, I’ve got you.'”

7. Fitzgerald, of course, has long advocated for Thorson, and he did that again during this Pro Day. “He’s a great leader who’s been through a lot. Who’s had great success. Who understands what it means to compete,” he said here. “He had to do that to earn the job, it wasn’t handed to him. And then a guy who’s battled through a ton of adversity. You don’t start 53 games and have the ebbs and flows, the highs and lows, the injury he had to overcome without being a guy who has great confidence, great poise. The pro game will not be above him. He will not be in awe of being in that locker room. He’ll be ready to go. Talking to scouts down at The Combine, that’s what jumped out to them. Just how mature he is. I’m sure he’ll have an awesome career.”

8. Corner Montre Hartage took part in the festivities even though he pulled a hamstring Nov. 10 against Iowa; re-injured it against Ohio State on Dec. 1 and missed the Dec. 31 Holiday Bowl; and then re-injured it one more time in the Jan. 12 East-West Game. “He’s only been cleared to participate a very limited amount of time. He’s been doing more rehab stuff,” Fitzgerald said of him, but then added the pros like Hartage’s flexibility. “A lot of people like him at corner. People like him at nickel. You see the physicality, could he maybe grow into a safety?” he said. “I’ve heard all those things. Or at least been asked all those things. Not bad for a young man we offered our last scholarship to.”

9. Defensive tackle Jordan Thompson, who had surgery that kept him too out of the Holiday Bowl, just lifted on this Pro Day. But, reported Fitzgerald, “We’re going to have another Pro Day specifically for him later in April to give him a chance to train and showcase his skills on the field.”

10. Other ‘Cats who participated here were offensive linemen Tommy Doles and Blake Hance, linebacker Nate Hall and safety Jared McGee, and the receiver Nagel. “This has been my dream since I can remember, since I was five. This is what I’ve been working for my whole life,” he would say when his drills were completed. “Since I narrowed it down freshman year of high school and decided football was going to be my sport, my path, and I cut out the other sports I played, since then this is all I’ve been focusing on. To get to this point is unbelievable, feels great. But at the end of the day, I’ve got a lot more work to do. I’ve got to go make a team. That’s my ultimate goal. I think I’ll get that chance, from what I’ve been hearing. Just take advantage of that opportunity. Just play football. I’m looking forward to getting on a team and playing football. That’s what I do best.”

11. The importance of that, compared to merely performing in shorts-and-tees, was explicated by Fitzgerald. “All these guys, they all have great video, all have a ton of tape,” he said here. “The way this has always been articulated to me by the NFL— The Senior Bowl, The East-West Game, The Combine, Pro Day, those are all one-day, one-game evaluations. The guys all have 30-plus games to evaluate. This is like game 31, 32, 33. I hope they have good games today, so to speak. But there’s a ton of empirical data on them as football players.”

12. Finally, and not surprisingly, Fitzgerald would not escape the cameras and notebooks without being asked about the competition to replace Thorson as the ‘Cat quarterback. “Everybody’s getting equal reps until it separates itself,” he said. “Typically, what’s happened in the past, maybe a couple guys don’t separate themselves above everybody else. A couple guys separate themselves below. That hasn’t happened yet and so we’ll progress this week (in spring ball) to see where we’re at. We’ll run the numbers that we look at, metric wise, like we have in the past.

“But we’ve got a lot of time. We probably won’t walk out of spring with a starting quarterback named, based on what I’ve seen.”


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