In 2014, Nyles Morgan entered his freshman campaign expecting to learn Brian Vangorder’s complex NFL-style defense from the sidelines behind high football IQ, and former walk-on Joe Schmidt.
That's not how things ended up going down.
Schmidt suffered a nasty ankle injury. As a result, Morgan, who was tabbed as the #34 overall recruit in the nation and coming off of a State Championship, was “thrown to the wolves,” so to speak. The then 6’1, 230 pound true freshman was quarterbacking a defense against tough competition and certainly had his share of misreads and blown assignments but Morgan certainly held his own and made his share of plays. After playing in 12 games including 4 starts recording 47 tackles, Morgan earned Sporting News and Football Writer’s Association First Team Freshman All-American honours.
Joe Schmidt was back healthy in ‘15 and went on to take nearly every snap at Mike Linebacker- much to the dismay of some fans. Nyles mainly saw the field on Special Teams but gained valuable knowledge behind linebackers Schmidt, the outstanding Jaylon Smith and last season’s captain James Onwaulu. In the offseason, former Defensive Coordinator Brian Van Gorder sang high praise of Morgan for his efforts in the weight room, film room and classroom.
Nyles Morgan came into Spring Camp in ‘16 physically prepared to take on the Mike position full time (6’1, 245 lbs.) but most of all he was mentally prepared. Morgan became a vocal leader in practise by getting the front seven lined up properly and called out adjustments alongside fellow linebackers James Onwaulu, Greer Martini, Te’von Coney, Asmar Bilal and his understudy Josh Barajas. Morgan brought supreme athleticism to the Mike position that was missing at Notre Dame since Manti Teo led the 2012 Irish to a National Championship. Although he didn’t have an All-American caliber preformance, he played solid assignment football finishing with 90 tackles.
Enter Mike Elko’s defense. Nyles Morgan will be the focal point of a very different scheme this year. In Elko’s defense, the Mike linebacker has less pass coverage responsibilities given the Rover is typically responsible for the inside receiving option. This allows the Mike to key in on run support or blitz the QB. Elko often dialed up A or B gap blitzes at Wake Forest with senior linebacker Marquel Lee who finished the season with 105 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles. Morgan had 6 tackles for loss, 4 sacks and zero forced fumbles playing in BVG’s highly unsuccessful scheme.
Nyles Morgan has, and has always had, elite traits and it will be very interesting to see how he pans out in his senior year for the Fighting Irish. This seems to be a fairly significant case of untapped potential but all signs are pointing to big things in ‘17.