Prior to 2017, no one, even the Notre Dame defensive staff, saw Te’Von Coney as an impact player on defense. He was the backup to Greer Martini at Buck and wasn’t really clicking in the spring or in fall camp. He was a role player. Then the games started, and he laid out a path of destruction to the tune of 116 tackles and 12.5 tackles for loss. In other words, Manti Te’o circa 2011 numbers.
A rise from on unknown like that is hard to predict, but there are some candidates on this team who could star that are flying mostly under the radar at the moment.
Nick Coleman, Safety
Coleman has almost been getting too much hype over the last week to make this list, but I still think people are focusing on freshman Houston Griffith enough to where Coleman is an after thought. Coleman started all 13 games at safety last year, then ended the spring on the third team when Griffith was moved from safety to corner. He had fallen off the radar so much I didn’t include him on the summers “Now Or Never” series because I had resigned him to the never category. How could he raise his game from the sideline.
Since then, he has been having a stellar camp, aided by a slight hamstring injury to Griffith, and is the favorite to start alongside Alohi Gilman against Michigan. And according to Brian Kelly, Coleman may have been outplaying Griffith, and perhaps even Gilman, anyway.
Coleman is a stellar athlete who was solid as a tackler for much of his first season at safety, he just didn’t make many plays. If he evolves as a playmaker, and aided by the often predicted bump in pass rush, Coleman can turn in a stellar 2018, similar to the evolution of safety Zeke Motta from 2011 to 2012.
Tommy Kraemer, Right Guard
Of all the offensive linemen, Kraemer is probably talked about the least, but he has the most potential. People forget how highly touted he was, but he’s the highest composite rated prospect on the entire team (#26 nationally on 247 sports) . He played out of position last year to accommodate Alex Bars at right guard, and switched off with Robert Hainsey at right tackle. This year Kraemer moves inside to his more natural right guard spot and paired next to Hainsey they could form a dominant tandem, while everyone is focused on the left side with newcomer Liam Eichenberg.
It’s hard for a guard to jump out as a break out player, their stats belong to other players, but watch for the right side in the run game this year.
Javon McKinley, Wide Receiver
This is very much on brand for a Te’Von Coney like ascension, but McKinley keeps showing up in a positive way in the practice reports and all it really takes is one play in a big game, like say the opener against Michigan, for a player like McKinley to move himself into the receiver rotation permanently. And like Kraemer, McKinley has the pedigree, as the former 114th player in his recruiting class.
He was getting praise for his effort on the field and in the weight during the spring as well, so his play has at least carried over to the practice field in the fall. I think the opportunity will be there for him and it’s just a matter of him taking advantage of it.
Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, Defensive Tackle
Right now he slated behind Jerry Tillery, but boy would he have an opportunity if they wanted to pair him next to Tillery on passing downs. With the focus rightly being on Tillery and whatever two defensive ends are out there, he’d be working one on one matchups all day. MTA, or Lord Myron, has reportedly looked explosive in camp and has re-worked his body some to add some nice muscle to his frame. He flashed last season as a freshman, but being behind Tillery this season has people looking at him as more of a role player. It’s very easy to see him getting into a groove and being one of the most important players on the team.