Blue and Gold Illustrated

August 2017

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

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20 AUGUST 2017 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED division school Illinois State, where he will be immediately eligible to play. Coney started nine games last fall and finished fourth on the team with 62 tackles. He had a solid spring, but was beat out by senior Greer Martini. It's not that Coney did not perform well; it's just that Martini had an out- standing spring, which helped him gain separation at the Buck position. The Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., na- tive will get an opportunity to con- tinue challenging Martini in the fall, but getting back into a starting role will be difficult. Coney still has an important role because he will be the third inside linebacker in the ro- tation, which means he slides into the lineup should an injury occur, or should Martini or senior Nyles Mor- gan struggle. Bilal is the best athlete on the roster at linebacker, which is why he spent much of the spring playing at the rover position. He is slated to back up senior Drue Tranquill, but accord- ing to head coach Brian Kelly there will be a role for the junior this fall. He isn't a natural in coverage, but his ability to play the run and his speed off the edge gives Elko something to work with in different packages. In addition, both Coney and Bilal will be vital players on special teams. HELP ON THE BACK END Shaun Crawford was just behind Wimbush when it came to prep rank- ings for members of the 2015 class. Ri- vals ranked him as the nation's No. 82 overall player, while ESPN, Scout and 247Sports all listed him among the top 180 players in the land. Crawford was poised to play a ma- jor role as a freshman, but a torn ACL ended his season in fall camp. He re- turned last season and quickly rose to the top of the depth chart. Crawford made his presence felt right away, intercepting a pass and returning a blocked point-after try for a two- point conversion in the fourth quar- ter of Notre Dame's season-opening loss to Texas. In the second game, though, Craw- ford tore his Achilles and was once again lost for the year. With two major season-ending injuries to his lower body, there are serious ques- tions about whether or not Crawford can get back to full speed. That makes him the wild card in the class. He has impact talent as a cornerback, possessing elite speed, instincts and playmaking ability. Should he return to health and get to full speed, he could challenge soph- omore Julian Love for the starting field cornerback position. At the least, a healthy Crawford will have a significant role in Notre Dame's third-down packages. If he can truly get back to full health, he could be the kind of back end play- maker Notre Dame lacked for much of the 2016 season. Nick Coleman struggled at corner- back the last two seasons, failing to turn his speed and athleticism into productive play. He showed the phys- ical traits, but he never got comfort- able in man coverage on the outside. One of the first moves Elko did when he arrived was move Cole- man to safety in hopes of finding a way to take advantage of the athletic skills he possessed. Coleman started the spring at the Whip safety posi- tion, but eventually settled into the Stud role and ended the spring as the starter. Coleman made a number of plays on the football during the spring, but was a bit inconsistent against the run. If he can continue affecting the pass game but shore up his tackling, he should thrive. Even if he can't hold onto the starting job, he could find a role in the slot when Notre Dame goes to a pass-heavy defensive look. Safety Nicco Fertitta was banged up during the spring and didn't gain comfort yet in the new defense, but he showed last fall that he can pro- vide help on the back end in certain situations. He is a strong tackler with good range, which gives Elko another option against run-heavy teams. Washington, D.C., native Ashton White came to Notre Dame as a cor- Defensive tackle Jerry Tillery will be a key component to a Notre Dame defensive resurgence. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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