Some great seasons for Notre Dame in recent years have been given head starts by the return of a standout player for either a 5th year or a surprise senior year when they could have left for the NFL. Friday night Notre Dame found out that senior ROVER Drue Tranquill will return for a 5th year potentially sparking another such season for the Irish.
This is huge news for Notre Dame heading into 2018. Notre Dame has the chance to return the core of a defense that showed a lot of signs of improvement before eventually wearing down a little and coming back down to earth. Drue Tranquill’s quick assimilation to his new ROVER position was a big reason for the turnaround that the Irish defense experienced. After moving from safety, Tranquill finished 3rd on the team in tackles with 74 and tied for second in tackles for loss with 8.5. He also lead the team in fumble recoveries with 3 while adding 1.5 sacks and an interception.
With Tranquill back for next season, Notre Dame clearly has one of its captains set in stone at this point. Aside from Tranquill’s strong performance on the field, he is one of the unquestioned leaders on the team as well after serving as captain in 2017. He will be overseeing a group that has the potential to be a very veteran rich squad.
Getting Tranquill on board for a 5th year was the first of what will hopefully be a few dominoes to fall in Notre Dame’s favor. Both Jerry Tillery and Tevon Coney are still contemplating their NFL futures though with neither currently projected to be very high picks, there is a solid chance that both return along with Tranquill. Should that happen, Notre Dame’s defense has the chance to be a special unit next year.
While the defense faltered down the stretch this year, remember the strides this unit made from 2016 when the Notre Dame defense looked like a clown car. Mike Elko came in an immediately turned things around. Eventually a combination of opposing offenses spotting weaknesses and adjusting and Notre Dame still feeling the effects of the old strength and conditioning program led to a drop off at the end of the year. Neither the defense nor the S&C program changes were expected to be completely fixed in just one off-season.
This off-season though is when the changes made last year should really start to show the benefits. A second off-season under Matt Balis in the weight room should help build this team to be better prepared for November (if the ridiculous schedule decisions don’t submarine those efforts) and a second off-season under Elko will create a much greater level of familiarity for the defense.
Drue Tranquill’s ascendance into such a prominent and vital cog for Notre Dame is a testament to the kid’s perseverance and commitment. After suffering ACL injuries in back to back seasons in 2014 and 2015, some kids might not have had it in them to put in the work needed to get back on the field. Not only has Tranquill done the work to get back on the field, but he is thriving on it and only getting better.
Mike Elko still has a lot of work left to get this defense into the elite category but with the strides we saw made this year, Notre Dame fans should feel reasonably confident that is the direction this defense is headed. Getting Tranquill back for 2018 makes that all the more possible in 2018.
Tranquill was the first domino. Now all eyes will be on Jerry Tillery’s decision. If he follows suit, the Notre Dame defense will be set up extremely well in 2018.