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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 99 Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle


<> during the second half at Fenway Park on November 21, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Fighting Irish defeat the Eagles 19-16.

Maddie Meyer

Listed Measurements: 6-foot-6 ½, 308 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Junior with a total of two seasons of eligibility remaining
Depth chart: Tillery projects as a starter at defensive tackle with senior Daniel Cage behind him.
Recruiting: A consensus four-star, Tillery was recruited as an offensive tackle in large part due to his length.

Tillery has totaled 49 tackles in his first two seasons, including 37 last year with three for loss. He started last season’s first 11 games.

Both of Tillery’s freshman and sophomore seasons ended prematurely, neither due to injury. A violation of team rules led to Tillery being suspended for the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day 2016, and Irish coach Brian Kelly removed Tillery from the fourth quarter in the 2016 season finale against USC after Tillery received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for seemingly-intentionally stepping on the foot of a Trojan offensive lineman after a play. Earlier replays also showed Tillery making contact with a USC running back’s head after the back took a hit from Notre Dame safety Nicco Fertitta. Some would call Tillery’s contact with his foot a kick, others a nudge. Either way, that action went unnoticed by the officials.

As it pertains to the USC incidents, after the loss Kelly told the media he did not see the plays, but did speak with Tillery.

“Accountability is built within any program,” Kelly said. “Jerry has to be accountable for his actions every single day. Jerry is a good kid, and if he made a mistake, we’ll hold him accountable for that mistake.”

More recently, Kelly complemented Tillery’s spring practice performance.

“We’re developing some consistency along the defensive line across the board where we’re seeing consistent play with Jerry Tillery. This spring was a good one for Jerry. We saw much more consistency from him.”

WHAT KEITH ARNOLD PROJECTED A YEAR AGO* “I’m expecting a big step forward this season from Tillery, who won’t explode like Tuitt, but should get into the high single-digits for TFLs and find a way to impact the game more as a three-technique rather than a nose tackle. With the opportunity for a high snap count as the team’s only legitimate option to replace Sheldon Day, Tillery needs to learn how to play fast and wreak havoc, as it’s no longer enough to just hold up at the point of attack.”

Tillery did not meet Keith’s description of success last year. In fact, Tillery fell far short by most any metric. If anyone filled the void left by Day, it was Isaac Rochell. Now Rochell is gone, and so is Jarron Jones. For Notre Dame to have success this season, Tillery will need to fill those voids both on and off the field.

Of the remaining Irish defensive linemen, Tillery is considered a veteran. Both seniors Andrew Trumbetti and Daniel Cage have logged more games, but Tillery might actually have a higher snap count. (No, no one needs to go review three years of games and count. The point is, it’s possible. Tillery has as much experience, if not more, than those two elders.)

However, Tillery does not have a track record of acting like a leader needs to. More than increasing his tackles for loss tally, Notre Dame will need Tillery to show a young positional group how to proceed.

Then, obviously, an increase in tackles for loss and overall tackles would be much appreciated by defensive coordinator Mike Elko. Frankly, both should come just from sheer opportunity available in the middle. For context, Jones finished the 2016 season with 45 tackles including 11 for loss. If there is any archetype for Tillery, it was the 6-foot-5 ½, 315-pound Jones. Admittedly, Tillery does not have the arm length of Jones, but very few do. Most of them end up on the hardwood, not the gridiron.

By the end of his Notre Dame career, Jones went from a fun-loving definition of potential to a leader who excelled individually in concentrated bursts.

Why bring up the end of Jones’ Irish career like that time could be coming for the junior Tillery? Because it could be. Mock drafts already indicate he could be an NFL Draft pick next spring. If Tillery does seriously consider entering the draft with a year of eligibility remaining, it is a good sign for this coming season’s prospects. Those mock drafts project Tillery’s potential. NFL front offices will want to see some of that potential fulfilled before investing in an interior lineman.

*By no means is the “What Keith Arnold projected a year ago” section intended to showcase what Keith did or did not get right. It is intended to provide further context of how a player has performed compared to reasonable expectations.

Friday at 4: Goodbye A-to-Z, hello 99-to-2