Blue and Gold Illustrated

Preseason 2018

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

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28 PRESEASON 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI T here was never doubt about who represented the face(s) of the 2017 Notre Dame football team via words, talent and deeds. Fifth-year senior left tackle Mike McGlinchey opted to return as a two- time captain when he could have gone pro as a top selection, while senior left guard Quenton Nelson came back after having submitted his name for NFL Draft evaluation. They were the fulcrums of the 10-3 turnaround season, and they became college football's first offensive line tandem to be among the NFL's top 10 picks the ensuing spring in the same draft since 1991. Who will be the Nelson/Mc- Glinchey duo at Notre Dame in 2018? The inclination might be to stick with the offensive line with fifth-year senior captains Sam Mustipher (cen- ter) and Alex Bars (left guard), both third-year starters. This year, however, the balance of power — and experience —has shifted to the defense with the return of nine starters and about a half-dozen others who have seen extended action, if not started themselves. The defense fin- ished 20th last season in the Fremeau Efficiency Index, and is expected inter- nally to be even better in 2018. Playing side by side the way Nel- son and McGlinchey did, linebackers Drue Tranquill and Te'von Coney in many ways also represent the duo in other manners. From a production standpoint, last year they combined for 201 tackles and 23.5 stops for loss (Coney with 13 and Tranquill with 10.5 to rank one-two on the team). Notre Dame is one of only four schools to return a pair of linebackers ranked in the preseason top 10 at their respective positions by Lindy's Sports. Tranquill represents McGlinchey as another second-year captain (the 23rd in team history, which matches his number) who surprisingly re- turned for a fifth season. Why would Tranquill want to return when the brilliant student- athlete already has received his en- gineering degree and then July 14 married longtime sweetheart Jackie Gindt? Wasn't it time to move on to the next steps in his life, especially after having undergone ACL surgery on different knees his first two years? The answer was the same as with McGlinchey: He cherishes the op- portunity to represent Notre Dame on a national platform, lead team- mates and he believes there is more to check off on his college "to do" list. This includes shifting to his third position in three years after starting at safety (2016) and rover (2017). As this year 's Buck linebacker — where Coney played last year before moving to the middle this spring — Tranquill is in line to become the team's top tackler, and it is where NFL Draft evaluators said his skill set can be better maximized. "I wouldn't say I'm ever fully com- fortable," Tranquill replied about his new position. "There's always something to learn on a day-to-day basis, and that's the perspective I try to take. If you get complacent where you say, 'I feel comfortable,' that's when you're going to get passed up. "There are always areas of the game you can improve upon, and I think that's one of the things I love about football — there's always something to do. It seems I have something new going on every year … it keeps me on my toes." Like McGlinchey the past couple of years, Tranquill is easily the top choice to represent the university in media sessions, where he is the con- summate professional auditioning for the next stage of his life. "It helps a ton to have a guy like that," Coney said of playing next to Tranquill. "He's very accountable, you can trust him, you know he's going to know his job, you know he's going to push you, he's going to push others around him. "To have a guy who's never going to let you slack … you can't ask for nothing more." Meanwhile, it is Coney who could succeed Nelson as potentially the top football player on the 2018 team. This August, USA Today's TheBigLead. com had Coney as the school's sole representative on its list of the 50 best players in the country (No. 36). Similar to Nelson, Coney is less into talking and far more into not merely excelling but dominating. De- spite often splitting snaps in a three- for-two rotation with the graduated Nyles Morgan and Greer Martini, Coney paced the team in tackles last year with 116 — the most at the school since 2012 Butkus Award win- ner Manti Te'o had 133 — as well as tackles for loss with 13. He posted a career-high 17 stops in the 21-17 Citrus Bowl win versus LSU, and waited right until the Jan. 15 dead- line to announce his return. Working on his flexibility as a three-down linebacker has been a primary objective. Last year, Coney's role was mainly as a run stopper, but in passing situations he would be taken out. "I'm really focused on what I need to do to become a complete player to help me this year and my future — and be a leader," Coney said about his return. "I want to get more inter- ceptions, be able to show my flex- ibility and how I can cover in space man to man and zone drops, under- standing the passing schemes and being able to show The League I'm a complete player and that I'll continue to learn and got better for it. … "I knew that by coming back I'd reach my full potential." Last year under first-year linebacker coach Clark Lea, promoted this year to defensive coordinator, the position group had the top four tacklers on the team for the first time in school history. "He expects the linebackers to be the tip of the spear for the team," Tranquill said. Perhaps even more so in 2018 with the one-two tandem that returns. ✦ BACK-TO-BACKER Te'von Coney and Drue Tranquill could be the new faces of the 2018 team Coney led the 2017 Irish with 116 tackles and 13 stops behind the line of scrimmage. PHOTO BY ANGELA DRISKELL

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