Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Football

B-G Film: Tranquill the Right Fit at Rover

May 3, 2017

Finally, the football gods smiled on Drue Tranquill last season and he went through the entire year healthy. It couldn't have been easy to rehab an ACL injury two years in a row, but he did it and got through 2016 injury free. Unfortunately a healthy season didn't equal to a great season.

The team struggled throughout the year and he had ups and downs as an individual as well. He finished second on the team in tackles from his strong safety spot, but missed his fair share of tackles as well (16 according to the folks at CFB Film Room). He also didn't make many impact plays from his strong safety spot with only two tackles for loss and an interception on a ball that should have been caught in the Virginia Tech game. The Irish needed a playmaker in the secondary and Tranquill did not provide that.

The biggest reason as to why he didn't has more to do with where he was playing and less to do with his talent. Tranquill is not a safety. He may have been a fit there at one time, but that was about 15-20 pounds ago. His best fit was always closer to the line of scrimmage, which is something that he showed in the Virginia and Georgia Tech games as a sophomore before suffering a season ending injury.

It didn't take Mike Elko long to figure out that was where Tranquill was going to be most successful. After starting out splitting time between safety and Rover earlier in the spring, he only played Rover in the Blue-Gold game and showed exactly why he is the right individual to play that position for the Irish.

His two tackles for loss in the scrimmage matched his season total from last year and his versatility was on full display. They lined him up at different places on the field where he blitzed, covered, and defended the run. I think Elko is likely only scratching the surface with how he plans on using Tranquill at Rover as well.

Here's a look at where he lined up in the spring game and how he showed he can be very effective from all of those different alignments.

Coming off the edge for a TFL

This is a pretty common alignment for Elko's defense with the Rover lined up on the edge. It's almost a 5-2 look with what looks like cover one (with a safety dropping to the middle of the field) behind it. That is what allows Tranquill (23) to line up where he is and if it was a pass, he probably would have tight end Durham Smythe (80) in man coverage.

It's a run, though, and the offense is choosing to not block the backside edge defender (Tranquill). It's an easy play for him to crash down the line to make this tackle. I expect he'll be put in positions similar to this one quite a bit this season where he is unblocked and will be able to make a play in the backfield.


Head up man coverage on the tight end

Is Tranquill great in man coverage? No, he's not. At least he hasn't shown himself to be in practice or on Saturdays in his first three seasons. He can be solid, though. He's going to be able to handle quite a few tight ends and backs when asked to take them one on one.

Here he is lined up head up on Alize Mack (86) and Tranquill has him in man coverage. Considering the down and distance, 3rd and 3, I would love to see Tranquill close the gap here and be a bit tighter to Mack's hip. If he was, then perhaps this wouldn't have gone for a 1st down.

The recognition needs to be better, but it doesn't mean he isn't capable of doing this and doing it well. Matchups with him at 230 pounds covering tight ends are going to be far more favorable than him having to turn and run with slot receivers.


Creeping in on the blitz

This might have been my favorite pass rush in the Blue-Gold game and it didn't even result in a sack. In fact, it was a 1st down for the offense. That doesn't mean what I saw from Tranquill was any less exciting to see.

Here he is lined up inside shade of the slot receiver before creeping in to add to the rush as a blitzer. He gets put in a one on one with Quenton Nelson (56) and in most cases this is picked up quite easily. Tranquill shows a filthy spin move to beat Nelson and though Brandon Wimbush completes the pass for a first down, he would have paid the price in the pocket with Tranquill bearing down on him in a real game.

The scheme isn't always going to set up for the blitzer to have a free run to the quarterback. Sometimes it's going to be picked up by lineman or a back. It's Tranquill's job to win in a one on one pass rush situation when that happens and he won in a big way here.

It's going to be exciting to see him do this kind of thing this fall.


Shooting in for a TFL as an off the ball linebacker

The Rover is a hybrid position, but at its heart, the Rover is a linebacker. That's why it's such a great fit for Tranquill. He is best suited to play linebacker and if he wants to play at the next level, it will be there and not as a defensive back.

On this play he is lined up as a more traditional off the ball position in the box against a two tight end formation for the offense. This may not be an alignment we're used to seeing with him, but I think he showed exactly why he's a pretty natural fit lining up there.

The dirty work is put in by Jerry Tillery (99) by getting penetration into the backfield and disrupting the pulling linemen. Even if that penetration didn't happen, Tranquill still might have been able to shoot into the backfield to make this play because he recognizes the play immediately and is in a dead sprint to the ball carrier, Tony Jones Jr. (34).

This is instinctive. It looks like second nature for him to shoot this gap and then come up with the tackle. The puller, Sam Mustipher (53), didn't even get a chance to put a hand on him.


There are a lot of different ways that I think Elko can use Tranquill at Rover this season. These are just a few examples.

One thing that I know Elko won't do is put him in a position that is going to be unfavorable for Tranquill and the defense as a whole. We won't be seeing him asked to cover slot receivers where he is going to be outmatched against their quickness and speed. He'll be doing the things that he does well and because of that, I think he is set up to have a very productive season at Rover in Notre Dame's defense.
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