Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Football

Scouting the Roster: Jerry Tillery

May 19, 2017

Player name: Jerry Tillery

Player position: Defensive tackle (1 tech or 3 tech)

Years of eligibility left: 2

Projected rank on the depth chart: Based on the spring, starting 1 tech/nose guard

Player productivity so far: 2016: (12 starts at 3 tech) 37 tackles 3 TFLs 0 sacks 0 PBUs 0 FF

2015: (3 starts at 1 tech) 12 tackles 2 TFLs 1 sack ) PBUs 0 FF

What player does best: When Tillery is playing at his best, he can be a disruptive football player. A big man that can play with the type of leverage and has that kind of arm length is rare for an interior defensive lineman. He's shown devastating flashes of explosive power against Michigan State last season and Stanford in 2015 where he got underneath the pads of an opposing offensive lineman and absolutely embarrassed them.

As a pass rusher he has flashed remarkable flexibility in practice. He can dip and bend to get to the quarterback and has much more raw ability than most 6'6" individuals.

He has had stretches of games where he has routinely found his way into the backfield even though the tackle for loss production has not been there. It would be tough to argue that he isn't the most physically gifted defensive tackle on the roster, which sounds almost crazy when you consider he was viewed as a offensive tackle prospect out of high school.

What player needs to work on: To put it simply, he needs to work on quite a bit of his game to reach his potential.

His pad level isn't consistent enough. He needs to play with better leverage on a play to play basis. In general his effort needs to improve. He'll go from being close to the football or getting involved in a tackle on several plays in a row to being barely visible on the field.

As I mentioned with his ability to get penetration into the backfield, he needs to do a better job of not only getting off blocks quicker, but finding the football that much faster. Sometimes tackle for loss or sack production can be misleading compared to how a player is actually playing and I think it is somewhat for Tillery. But Notre Dame needs him to finish more in the backfield. They need that production from him.

All of the flash he has shown as a pass rusher hasn't really come to fruition in games yet. If he's playing 1 technique this season (he was in the spring) then he will see more double teams in pass protection and there is less space to work with. That can affect his overall production as a pass rusher, but he had several chances to rush the passer as a 3 tech in 2015 and couldn't get to the quarterback. His hands need to improve for him to win more and get to the quarterback.

He has those long arms as well and it would be great to see him get them into passing lanes more often too. It's something the Notre Dame coaches were emphasizing with everyone this spring in practice so hopefully he can make a jump with that area of his game.

Discipline never seemed to be an issue until the final game of the season at USC where he committed two egregious personal fouls. That seemed out of character for him. Hopefully it was a one time thing and will not happen again.

Productivity of former ND players and top players in the nation at his position:

Because Tillery is switching to play 1 tech/nose, I'm going to concentrate on the production from those players rather than 3 techs like Sheldon Day. Louis Nix played in a different scheme than the one Notre Dame is currently playing in, but I'm included him in here as a comparison.

Jarron Jones 2016 45 tackles 11 TFLs 2 sacks 3 PBUs 1 FF 1 INT 2 Blocked kicks

Jones 2014 (11 games) 40 tackles 7.5 TFLs 1.5 sacks 1 PBU 1 FF 2 Blocked kicks

Louis Nix 2013 (8 games) 27 tackles 2 TFLs 2 PBUs

Nix 2012 50 tackles 7.5 TFLs 2 sacks 5 PBUs 1 FF

Malik McDowell MSU (9 games) 34 tackles 7.5 TFLs 1.5 sacks

Filipo Mokofosi Utah 45 tackles 8 TFLs 5 sacks 1 PBU 1 FF

Lowell Lotulei Utah 28 tackles 8.5 TFLs 3 sacks

Stevie Tu'ikolovatu USC 53 tackles 2 TFLs 0.5 sacks 1 PBU

Da'Ron Payne Alabama 36 tackles 3.5 TFLs 1.5 sacks 1 PBU

Dexter Lawrence Clemson 62 tackles 9 TFLs 6.5 sacks 1 PBU 2 Blocked kicks

Most of these guys didn't put up astronomical numbers. It's the nature of the position that they are unable to, but there are areas where Tillery can be more productive that he can build on.

What can we hope for ? We can hope that Tillery takes a step in the right direction this season. He doesn't need to be a dominant player who is in the backfield on every play, but we can hope that he is a presence down in and down out that commands double teams. That will help make Nyles Morgan a much better player if that happens.

We can also hope that he comes in motivated to live up to the potential he has shown on the field and erase the bad memory of how last season ended for him. He showed signs in the spring of playing with great leverage and wasn't being moved off the football like some other defensive tackles on the roster.

If he plays hard every play, gets his hands into passing lanes to knock down passes, and comes out ready to prove that he can live up to the hype he came into Notre Dame with, then he should have a great season.

What is a realistic expectation? It's tough to say what exactly is a realistic expectation is for Tillery this season. Certainly it's not for him to become a star like many were projecting him to be after his first spring. He needs to walk before he can run. I just don't see a player who is close to becoming great yet.

That could change and he is going to be challenged early in the year by some physical teams. He looked like he had turned a corner against Michigan State. It's in him to be a dominant player, but it needs to be an all the time thing.

I think we could very well see him have a season like Jarron Jones did in 2014 (also his third year in the program). I don't think it's out of the question that there will be a handful of games where he plays outstanding and then has some other games where he isn't nearly as noticeable.

If that were to happen, most Notre Dame fans would be happy with the progress Tillery has made given that last year didn't live up to expectations.

What about the future? Originally some thought Tillery was talented enough to be a 3 and out player at Notre Dame. Right now it would be surprising if that was the case.

If he steps up in 2017 and starts to play more consistent and flashes more dominant moments, then he very well could be on track to set himself to be a legitimate NFL prospect as a senior. But first he will have to beat out Daniel Cage at 1 tech and hold him off the entire year to show scouts what he is capable of.

The "next great defensive lineman at Notre Dame" talk has died down. There is still a flicker of hope that it can be reignited again, though. We'll see if Tillery can get some people buzzing about his play this fall.
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