Jerry Tillery to Start Notre Dame Career on D

Jerry Tillery - Notre Dame Commit
Notre Dame commitment Jerry Tillery spent the last week practicing on the offensive line at the US Army All-American Bowl, but the Louisiana native will begin his career on defense for the Irish. (Photo: John Albright/Icon Sportswire)

Jerry Tillery was the first commitment in the class of 2015 for Notre Dame and is considered one of the top offensive tackles in the country by every recruiting service out there. Tillery, however, revealed this week that he will be starting his Notre Dame career on the defensive side of the ball according to several publish reports.

Tillery told the The Times Picayune:

“I’m going to be playing defense in college,” Tillery said. “I’m switching. That’s what I did a lot at Evangel. My body composition is changing a little bit. I’m in a lot better shape than I was my sophomore year and even my junior year. I’ve gotten a lot better on defense.”

The thinking behind Tillery starting on defense is that the Louisiana native can see the field sooner on that  side of the ball.  Considering Notre Dame’s recent success recruiting on the offensive line and some of the misses on defense, the move makes sense even though Tillery is considered an elite offensive linemen.

With Tillery set to enroll early at Notre Dame later this month and participate in spring practice, the Irish coaching staff can get a look at Tillery along the interior of the defensive line and if things don’t work out, he can always move back to offense before fall camp and not be behind any fellow classmates who enroll in June.  It’s really a no-lose experiment.

It will be interesting to see how Tillery performs this spring on defense considering he just spent the last week playing very well at offensive tackle during the US Army All-American Bowl week down in San Antonio.

Despite playing offensive line in the All-American bowl, playing defense will not be new for Tillery – quite the contrary actually.  Tillery played on the defensive line for Evangel Christian in Shreveport, Louisiana as a senior and excelled.  He collected 93 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, and 7 sacks earning Defensive Player of the Year honors from The Times Picayune in the process.

At 6’6″, 315 pounds Tillery might not exactly fit the mold of a traditional interior defensive lineman but neither does current Notre Dame junior Jarron Jones.  Jones also stands 6’6″ tall but was playing at a very high level for the Irish in 2014 prior to being lost for the year due to injury.

To prepare for his work on the defensive side of the ball this year, Tillery spent his summer running 5K’s and triathlons.   When was the last time Notre Dame, or any school really, had a defensive tackle weighing 315 lbs capable of running a 5k or completing a triathlon?  That level of athleticism, combined with Tillery’s size, does make the idea of him playing on the interior of the defensive line a very interesting proposition.

Tillery will join three other incoming freshmen competing for playing time on the interior of the defensive line – Elijah Taylor, Brandon Tiassum, and fellow early enrollee Micah Dew-Treadway.  Last year Notre Dame brought in two defensive tackles – Daniel Cage and Pete Mokwuah.  Notre Dame meanwhile has commitments on the offensive line from another early enrollee, center Tristen Hoge, along with guard Trevor Ruhland.

Regardless of where Tillery ends up playing for Notre Dame, one thing is certain – the Irish are getting a very special player.  While Tillery’s recruiting process has been a bit of an adventure despite his very early commitment to Notre Dame, it looks like all of the work put in by the Irish coaching staff to fight off the continued charges from the LSU staff will be paying off in a big way, literally, in the near future.

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  1. If the kid wants to play D, and it seems he does, there isn’t a downside for ND to give him a look there — DL recruiting has been a little hit-and-miss. He can always switch to OT if it doesn’t work out.

  2. I like it. Despte his size he is a very good athlete and DL remains a huge need for the Irish. His upside is through the roof and if it doesn’t work out you can always move him back to OT but I don’t think that will be the case. He has great feet and plays with good leverage and power. I think Tillery is going to be a star. LSU wanted him badly and they usually can get their in state kids to stay home. Alabama also is able to steal a player or two from there as well. This was a great pickup for Notre Dame. We could use 3 or 4 more just like Tillery!

  3. It sounds like the kid is happy to play defense rather than offense..if that’s where his heart is that will be great for the Irish..Sounds like a phenomenal athlete to be that big and running triathlons..I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone that big running a triathlon.

  4. This is intriguing, and has almost no downside. If, at the end of Spring practice, the staff determines that the experiment is a failure, Tillery will still have gained valuable experience and can move back to the OL for the June practices. Like future stars Nelson and Bars, he would redshirt anyway on the OL.

    One wonders if the commitment of Tommy Kraemer for the 2016 class provides a safety net.

    This is good, this is bold. This is just one more scintilla of evidence that Kelly, while shepherding the offense, is fully committed to helping Van Gorder establish a great defense.

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