Blue and Gold Illustrated

Preseason 2018

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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22 PRESEASON 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY BRYAN DRISKELL D espite several strong perfor- mances, the 2015 recruiting class has not truly lived up to its lofty status. In 2018, those remaining players will get one final chance to change the narrative and end their careers impressively. So far the class has been part of two 10-win seasons, but it is much smaller now than it was when it signed. Eleven of the 24 signees are gone, with four transferring out and four getting dismissed from the team. Another — defensive end Bo Wallace — never actually even arrived at Notre Dame. R u n n i n g b a c k J o s h A d a m s and wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown both declared for the NFL Draft a year early following the 2017 season, with St. Brown selected by the Green Bay Packers in the sixth round and Adams going undrafted. If the story ended today, the class would be considered a bit of a disap- pointment, but a look at the depth chart shows that it has an opportu- nity to make a profound impact in 2018. If Notre Dame is going to make a run at the College Football Play- off this season, the class of 2015 will likely play a significant role. STAR POWER There are numerous players from the class in position to become top producers for the 2018 Fighting Irish, but three in particular have a golden opportunity to become linchpins. It starts at quarterback with Bran- don Wimbush. He enters his sec- ond season as a starter after racking up 30 total touchdowns last sea- son, highlighted by a quarterback school-record 14 rushing scores. Wimbush was erratic as a passer, but at times his play was brilliant. When he was on his game, the Irish offense was exceptional. Notre Dame averaged 41.3 points per game during its 8-1 start, which ranked seventh nationally. Wimbush led the Irish to blowout victories over USC (49-14), North Carolina State (35-14) and Michigan State (38-18) — three teams that combined for a 30-10 record and finished in the final top 25 rankings. However, he also was culpable in the collapse down the stretch, and as his play dipped so did the potency of the entire offense. The Irish coaches are expecting Wimbush to improve his game in his second season as a starter. A danger- ous runner that racked up 803 yards to go with those 14 touchdowns, Wimbush has a powerful arm that he is trying to harness. Being able to accomplish that objective will be the difference be- tween him being an occasionally brilliant player that lacks consis- tency or becoming a truly dominant quarterback as a dual threat. A pair of defenders have a chance to do for their unit what Wimbush hopes to on offense. Tackle Jerry Til- lery and linebacker Te'von Coney were leaders on the 2017 defense, and like Wimbush they had superb moments. They also almost joined Adams and St. Brown in the NFL. Tillery went from a talented but enigmatic figure his first two seasons on campus to becoming the team's unquestioned standout up front. He surpassed his career totals in a num- ber of categories, leading the defen- sive line in tackles (56) and tackles for loss (9.0), while pacing the entire defense with 4.5 sacks and 11 quar- terback hurries. The Shreveport, La., native did this while playing nose tackle, a position not designed to create impact num- bers. During the offseason, the de- fensive staff decided to move Tillery to tackle, a position that is expected to produce greater results. The move has allowed him to be a standout in practice during the fall, and it has him in position to be an anchor. Coney struggled in his first season as a starter (2016), finishing with 62 tackles and 1.5 stops for loss. A tenta- tive player that season, Coney began 2017 as a backup to captain Greer Martini. By midseason he was not only a starter, he had emerged as the team's best linebacker. Despite playing only 109 more snaps than he had the season prior, Coney finished the campaign with 116 tackles and 13 stops for loss, both team highs. Coney was a force against the run, and his ability to quickly read and react to what he was seeing allowed him to make a lot of plays at or be- hind the line of scrimmage. The vast majority of his production last season came at Buck linebacker, but now Coney will man the Mike spot, which is the de facto leadership position in the defense. Last season, the Palm Beach Gar- dens, Fla., native was able to fly to the football and had few responsi- bilities beyond that. Now he is tasked with calling the defense while mak- ing sure his teammates are lined up correctly, and he'll have to be a better all-around player, including the pass. If Tillery and Coney are at the top of their games this season, they will combine with fifth-year seniors Drue Tranquill at Buck linebacker and Jon- athan Bonner at nose tackle to give Notre Dame its best up-the-middle defense since 2012. OFFENSIVE PRODUCTION POTENTIAL The departure of Adams and St. Brown leaves the offense with a huge void in run-game output and receptions. Adams finished his ca- reer with 3,198 career yards on the ground, and St. Brown hauled in 91 passes for 1,476 yards and 13 touch- downs the two previous seasons. Wide receiver Miles Boykin is poised to take over for St. Brown as SMALL BUT MIGHTY The diminished senior class still has a chance for dominant performances in 2018 Jerry Tillery, the No. 6 defensive tackle nationally according to Lindy's, is expected to anchor what will be a veteran front seven for the Irish in 2018. PHOTO BY ANGELA DRISKELL

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