Returns of Jerry Tillery, Tevon Coney Beyond Huge for Notre Dame

Notre Dame needed a bit of good news after a week and a half span in which they lost their defensive coordinator to A&M in a money grab, lost one of the best offensive line coaches in the game to the NFL, and reportedly will have to fit off Alabama to keep its hot shot young offensive coordinator.  They got it on Monday night when both Jerry Tillery and Tevon Coney announced they would be returning for their senior seasons in 2018.

Notre Dame needed this news.  Not just to reverse all the bad news that has occured since the miraculous ending to the Citrus Bowl either.  The Irish needed this because with Tillery and Coney back in 2018, the Irish defense has a chance to be really, really good in 2018 even with a new defensive coordinator in Clark Lea.

Brian Kelly was excited about the return of his defensive stalwarts.  Notre Dame’s head coach released the following statement.

“We talk about the mission everyday: graduate our players and win a national championship. While I’m excited to have Jerry and Te’von return from a football standpoint, I’m proud that they both believe in this mission and value the significance of the ND degree.”

Tevon Coney was an absolute monster over the 2nd half of the season and in the Citrus Bowl when he was a one man wrecking crew.  Coney wracked up 17 tackles against LSU alone as he lead Notre Dame in tackles with 116 on the season.  And he wasn’t even a full time starter this season.  Even in limited action though, he had the best season of any Irish linebacker since Manti Te’o’s historic run in 2012.

Tillery didn’t have quite as monster of a season, but by the end of 2017, he was playing some really good football on the interior of the Irish defensive line.  Tillery ended the season with 56 tackles and lead Notre Dame with 4.5 tackles for loss and trailed only Coney in tackles for loss with 9.0.  Tillery also haad almost twice as many QB hurries this year with 11.  The next closest player for the Irish had 6.

Returning for their senior seasons was not a sure thing for either.  Coney’s rapid ascension at the end of the year and Tillery’s unique blend of size and athleticism gave them an opportunity to be drafted higher than perhaps their current game skills would project them to be.  Both reportedly received stay in school grades – but so did Equanimeous St. Brown and Josh Adams who already left for the NFL this off-season.  Still, in today’s NFL with the smaller rookie contracts and rush to getting to the second contract, many juniors who may have been on the fence in the past have been rolling the dice more and more.

Luckily for Notre Dame, Tillery and Coney decided to bet on themselves and take their chances with a senior season.   With both in the lineup for 2018, the Irish defense could be the best its been since the 2012 unit.  The momentum built in the first year under Mike Elko should be able to be maintained under Clark Lea who knows the system inside and out after serving as an understudy to Elko at Bowling Green, Wake Forest, and Notre Dame last fall.

Had Tillery left for the NFL, Notre Dame’s defensive line depth would have been hit hard on the inside – especially with the expected departure of Elijah Taylor to transfer.  Notre Dame would likely have been starting two true sophomores inside had Tillery left.  Depth will still be an issue to solve though as Notre  Dame will need either senior Brandon Tiassum or Micah Dew Treadway to finally be ready for a prime reserve role or for incoming freshman Jayson Ademilola to be ready to play just as Kurt Hinish and Myron Taglovailoa-Amosa were in 2017.

With Tillery back though, Notre Dame has a potential star to anchor the defensive line and help mentor the young the Irish have inside. It’s rare for a nose tackle to lead a team in pressures, but Tillery did it.  If he can improve this off-season anywhere close to the same amount he improved last year, we will be talking about Tillery as a very high draft pick next fall.

Tillery’s return is also big for the production of Tevon Coney now that he is back as well.  Coney was a tackling machine this fall and to repeat that, he needs a strong line in front of him demanding double teams and creating space for him to wreck havoc.  Coney played mostly the BUCK position but in 2018, it seems likely that Coney moves over to the MIKE to replace Nyles Morgan.  Coney has the size to play the position – especially with another offseason under Matt Balis – and he could become a star at the position.

This defense is designed for the MIKE to be the star essentially.  Elko’s defenses – whose linebackers were coached by Lea in 2016 – were anchored by star MIKE’s.  Coney is the best candidate to play that position for Notre Dame in 2018.  Had he left, Notre Dame’s starting linebacker trio would have been a bit of a reason for concern.  With him back, Notre Dame still has some question at the BUCK.  Do they try and bulk up Tranquill a bit more and move him from ROVER to BUCK and then let a battle ensue in spring and fall for the ROVER?  A linebacking corps of Coney, Tranquill, and say rising sophomore Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah would be the most athletic set of backers perhaps in Irish history.

Notre Dame still has some questions to answer on defense between now and September but they couldn’t have asked for any better answers to the NFL decisions they faced on defense this offseason.  With Coney and Tillery announcing their returns Monday and Tranquill his return back in December. the Irish have the makings of the kind of defense that can carry it a long way in 2018.  It’s too bad  Mike Elko decided to take a little extra cash at A&M, he is going to miss out on coaching one heck of a defense next fall.

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  1. This and Lea staying to be DC will be a help to the defense. I honestly thought Elko would try to bring along at least Lea on his staff at A&M, but thankfully that will not occur. ND needs to stay the course on defense and Lea seems to be an Elko apprentice. He’ll likely maintain the same philosophy, and maybe that helped Tillery and Coney to stay the course for another year.

    With this news, I’m less worried about the defense. The offense, well that’s another story, and of course Special Teams hasn’t been mentioned much so far, but that leaves a lot of room for improvement in a number of areas.

  2. Duranko,
    I’m totally opposed to moving ANY ND home game from Notre Dame stadium to any other venue, not even Soldier Field.
    I was against the Hoosier Dome fiasco, even though I personally knew and respected the late Mr. Welch, the Indianapolis banker of Cathedral HS fame, who helped orchestrate it. I have always been against moving home games. It’s an unneeded hardship on the players, who have to live out of a suitcase away from ND, miss classes, get jet lag, and generally rush around for three or four more days than they would normally have to. It makes a farce of the “party line” out there that says they are students first and turns them into cash cows…even more than college football already does by its TV driven nature as “spectacle.” It’s a bad idea now, and it always has been, especially in November. It might not matter if you are taking a full load of ball room dancing…but when you have books to read, papers to write, projects to complete, and mid terms or finals looming, it just has to suck worse than rockets.

    I can’t speak for Southside, but I want every game we can possibly get at ND to be played at ND – a 10 minute walk from their dorm rooms. And if that means November sleet in my face, as it so often does in North Central Indiana, well, I’ll be there.

    Now I do like the alternating warm weather Thanksgiving weekend road game…that’s a good idea and we’ve done that with USC/Miami, and recently, USC/Stanford. It’s tough to end on the road against quality opponents, I get that, but at least the team is on break, our weather is often frightful then, and when we do win that last game it often vaults us in the polls, or at least cements our position for the bowl committees. These “SHAMrock” series games do neither because they are typically against comparatively weak opposition.

    BGC ’77 ’82

  3. Andy Heck is one possibility. Also take a look at Mike Sullivan, AA, captain – two Miami Hurricane NC’s. His uncle was a great Notre Dame prof during the 70’s. Mike was recruited from DeSales in Chicago by Jimmy Johnson after Faust stopped recruiting him for ND. He started 4 years at Miami! He’s coached “O” line for Chargers and Cleveland. Don’t know where he is now. He was 2-2 against Holtz ND teams. Great guy, great catholic values, smart as a tack.

    BGC ’77 ‘8

    1. Googled Mike Sullivan – he’s at Tennessee Titans as assistant “O” line coach. Don’t know if he’d be interested in the move, but his parents, and at one time he himself, always wanted to give ND a shot. As I said, his Uncle, Richard Sullivan, was an English prof at ND back in the day. Faust dropped him from the recruiting list for reasons unknown to me…not grades, that’s for sure…the guy was straight A’s at St. Francis de Sales HS on the south side of Chicago…the blue collar 10th ward. He was a no nonsense, self-disciplined, hard nosed, hard worker…basically a tough kid and a nice guy. When I think of south side Chicago HS football of that era I think of two guys…Chris Zorich and Mike Sullivan.

      BGC ’77 ’82

      1. Richard Sullivan was my Writing prof for five semesters and the most impressive teacher I ever had at ND.

      2. He was a personal friend of Hemmingway’s. He told us these two things in Creative Writing: (1) Hemmingway wrote every day.
        (2) If we really wanted to be a writer, we should write every day.

        The workload in that class was too much (given my other classes)…you had to read everyone’s short stories…and there were almost twenty people in there. I got ill that semester (late, in early November) and I had to drop all my classes…and still pay for the semester!

        BGC ’77 ’82

        BGC ’77 ’82

  4. Regarding the possibility that Chip Long might be heading to Alabama…….personally, I doubt that I would want to work under Nick Satan. He’s a moody coach probably even more so then BK. He’s pretty ruff on his staff even when they’re doing a good job!

  5. Thanks for the recommendation reading; Resurrection. Fighting Back about Rocky Bleier is one of my favorites.

    1. GK , agree on Rocky incredible comeback after Viet Nam tour of duty. His wounds from a grenade did not stop him from a outstanding career/member of Super Bowl dynasty Steelers of 1970’s.

  6. Good news regarding the returns of Tillery and Coney; helping to strengthen the middle of the D’, and with Gilman at safety, the D’ middle ought to be a team strength.
    Don’t want to rain on the happy parade of recent news, but I also heard about OC Long going to Bama. He’s from Northern Alabama and at ‘Bama it’s easier going from a co-ordinator to a head coach , along with much more money offered from Bama and playing for the NC annually, all huge incentives.
    Plus, Saban is more involved with the D’, so Long would have as much freedom there as he reportedly has under Kelly.
    Long not being offered by Saban might be NDs best chance of keeping him.
    Re: Balis- I thought I read he’s headed for Indiana U. Rumors abound!

    1. Frank and MTA , thank you for the uplifting great news we all have been waiting for. MTA , read other reports that Hugh Freeze was interviewing for Alabama OC job and that ‘Bama players prefer in house assistant coach for OC slot. Let’s hope Chip Long remains in South Bend. As for replacing O-Line coach Harry H—is Andy Heck a possibility ? The former All American of ’88 NC squad has a great career going in NFL as an O-line coach–presently employed with KC Chiefs. Some of the younger posters might not remember him — but we older posters do. Andy Heck was a tight end converted by Holtz to bolster the interior of O-Line. Stroke of genious by Holtz akin to Ara’s player position moves of Duranko from RB to DE , Rassas from RB to DB , Schoen from back up QB to Safety. These players became All-American at their new positions. Getting back to Andy Heck—some other websites have brought him up as potential hire for new O-LINE COACH at ND. I looked up his bio–and his resume is quite impressive in NFL as an O-Line coach.

      1. Yo! Southside. What was Jack Snow, a radish?

        He moved from RB to WR, caught a pass or two from John Huarte.

        And it is even more intriguing. For check out the intra-career moves made with Regner and Gmitter.

        Now, Southside, just imagineer this one: Ara walking in to see Johnny Ray and telling him he was moving Regner and Gmitter
        from defense to offense.

        On another, more deadly matter, I start to which when you and the esteemed Curme get into your South Side
        homey fest. Left unchecked, I fear that you would both relocate Notre Dame, at least its home field to somewhere near, but
        just south of 35th and Shields.

        Can you and Bruce Gregory convince me otherwise?????????

        And i think ND has to make a great sales pitch to Heck. I sure would bring Todd Lyght, his teammate in ’88 along for the presentation.

        In all seriousness, Southside, I think you and Curme and I could formulate and make the pitch.

      2. Duranko , ain’t it good to know , we oldies can talk ND football on here—not too many left. I would recommend to the younger fans to purchase a book called “RESURRECTION” – The miracle season that saved Notre Dame. It’s all about the hiring of Ara–a non Catholic , and the trials he/players went through to formulate a National Championship in 1966. This is the best book in my opion written about Notre Dame football–and there have been many going back to Rockne. The author is Jim Dent–and the book came out in 2009. I would assume it’s on the shelf of Notre Dame Book Store in South Bend or online for purchace. I highly reccommend it for ND fans past and present.

    2. “Don’t want to rain on the happy parade of recent news..”

      You want to see a parade, check Clemson.
      Their entire front starting 7 is returning.
      They’re pretty good.

      1. Good DAVEY so why don’t u go follow them? Already crying, go on Clemson website they would love to have a MORON like U. Hey DAVEY MIKE BREY and the basketball team are really struggling this year you should try to get him fired to!! 8 more months of BS from DAVEY DOWNER!!! LOSER!!!

  7. Some very good players are also returning to other teams. Teams that, unlike ND, could easily replace them with their depth chart. And who have a stable staff to coach the next ones up.
    But go ahead…throw a party.

  8. The two anchors returning will list us in the top 10 to begin the season. Do colleges learn from the Pros or do the Pros learn from Colleges? Same play, same aftermath; LSU and the Saints both go down on last play.

    1. Great observation GK Money???. I did not even make the connection until you mentioned it. You always bring it with your top notch analysis ??. Kudos my friend, kudos INDEED!!!

      I met a LSU alumni at the citrus bowl. Class of 74. He made a great observation. He said “you never know who will win the LSU/ ND. games, but you do know that it will always be a great game that comes down to the final few plays”. Dollars to doughnuts???, he was spot on!!!! Thankfully, we came out on top!!!! Go IRISH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    2. Top Ten preseason?

      There is absolutely nothing more irrelevant, and Jejume than all that drivel.

      Preseason predictions are of the chumps, by the chumps and for the chumps.

      The only thing dumber is listening to Kirk “I have NO INSIGHT” Herbstreit.

  9. Wow is all I can say??? Hey Michigan, we are going to bring it in September. A September to Remember, I say!!!!!! Look out!!!! Go Irish!!!!!!!!!!

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