The Notre Dame Fighting Irish got a nice wave of good news on Monday when Jerry Tillery and Te’von Coney announced that they were staying for their senior year. It felt like a blessing from the gods after the news that had been coming out of South Bend for the past few weeks.
How big is this? What exactly does this mean for the Irish defense in 2018?
We will cover a lot of specifics in the coming weeks in terms of position groups and the unit itself, but I want to take just a moment to discuss the immediate impact these decisions will make on the Irish defense and the team as a whole.
While it appears that there has been nothing decided as of yet in regards to the captains for next season, both Tillery and Coney could be in line for that captain’s “C” on their uniform. At the very least, they are two more seniors that will be in the starting lineup each Saturday.
So much of the discussion about the Clark Lea promotion as the defensive coordinator revolved around the theory of “continuity.” Lea would be the best man available to help the Irish defense continue to get better in the system that Mike Elko brought with him to South Bend. Notre Dame returns 9 starters on defense now, but the 2 safeties may be replaced by fall camp (if not sooner). That means that the Irish would have only had 5 returning starters on defense in 2018 had Tillery and Coney left for the NFL.
I got killers with me...and it's only the beginning ☘️ pic.twitter.com/RIb0JqSnkA— Julian Love (@julianlove27) January 16, 2018
Notre Dame returns 8 of its top 10 tacklers from 2017. Coney led the team with 116 tackles with 13 TFL, and 3 sacks. Tillery was sixth on the team in tackles with 56 tackles with 9 TFL and 4.5 sacks. That isn’t just production in terms of tackles - but it’s disruptive production. The type of production that has been lacking on an Irish defense on a consistent basis.
SENSE OF URGENCY
Guys just don’t make an 11th hour decision to bypass the NFL Draft and come back for their senior year to just go through the motions. If either Tillery or Coney would have had 1st or 2nd round grades - they would be gone. This is a lot like the last year of a contract - they are playing for that next contract, and that can mean a HUGE year a lot of times. Both players will be busting their ass even harder to achieve their goals and dreams, and they will be pushing their teammates along with them.
Quite simply, their return means that Notre Dame won’t be forced to play underclassmen that aren’t quite ready to play big boy college football yet. It also allows flexibility with what they may have to do in the secondary - and in particular at safety. The happiest guy on the team right now is probably Drue Tranquill. Without Coney and Tillery, Tranquill (a fifth year senior) would have had more put on his plate than any one player should have.
There is a standard set in place with this defense, and with talent like Julian Love, Daelin Hayes, Shaun Crawford, and Julian Okwara to go go along with Tillery, Coney, and Tranquill in a defense that has already pay dividends - we could see something special in 2018 against another tough schedule.