Today's spotlight: Mike and/or will linebacker competitor Te'Von Coney:
Film Notes: Te'Von ConeyAccelerates to the quarterback and/or ball carrier and fills the gap confidently…Plays high because he can get away with it at the prep level, eradicating that fatal flaw that will be Job No. 1 upon arrival…Still able to shed blocks in traffic, however…More quick than fast which is fine assuming football instincts translate to the collegiate level…When he hits gear No. 2 going north-south, however, Coney can cover ground in a hurry...Has no qualms with sticking his helmet and pads in the mix but will need to add weight and strength to hold up over 12 games in a base package as a 2016 sophomore, even in a backup role…Uses his hands well to move through traffic and defeat blocks…
Of note: didn't show great change of direction on film but it also wasn't necessary as he was quick to diagnose and chase plays (they're "highlight" reels for a reason)…Shows good technique to wrap up ball carriers in pursuit but doesn't appear quite as quick running toward the sideline as he does exploding after the quarterback…Appears comfortable in traffic, a necessity to play middle 'backer at the collegiate level…Mike 'backer appears to be his initial slotting, which is fine down the road, assuming if he's used/forced to play as a freshman as were predecessors Nyles Morgan and later, Greer Martini…
Coney could fill a sub package role as a freshman and sophomore before challenging full time in Year 3…Times blitzes well, a key trait for VanGorder's sub packages and zone-blitz scheme…If you added two inches to his frame he'd be a natural edge rusher, not because of blinding speed but a knack for getting through blocks to the quarterback and finishing the sack…Becomes more aggressive as he's engaged with a blocker, a good sign he'll continue to shed blocks at the next level.
Upon ArrivalA look at eligibility among Notre Dame's inside linebackers when Coney hits campus prior to the 2015 season:
5th-Year Senior Joe Schmidt -- The team's clear-cut starter at mike 'backer should he return at full strength by August camp. Schmidt suffered a broken ankle on Nov. 1 against Navy and purportedly (per Kelly) exacerbated the injury trying to test it on the sidelines, dislocating it thereafter.
-- Ben Councell is at a career crossroads after a pair of concussions in 2014 that followed one in August Camp 2013, plus a Nov. 2013 knee injury that required surgery (PCL). A move from little-used SLB to WLB would seem logical for Councell should he return for a fifth season.
-- Jarrett Grace is a potential fifth-year senior in the middle, though more likely will remain with the program in some capacity accompanied by a medical scholarship.
Juniors: Jaylon Smith (2016) will either start again at WLB or move back to the open side of the scrimmage, the SLB role to play more in space. Classmates Michael Deeb (2017) and Doug Randolph (2017) remain untested. Deeb was the last member of the class of 2013 to make his collegiate debut, doing so for two snaps last Saturday in Los Angeles after third-string MLB Greer Martini was lost to injury. Randolph played extensively on special teams over the final four games but did not log competitive action from scrimmage, technically working behind Smith and Martini at the will position.
Sophomores: Both Nyles Morgan (mike) and Greer Martini (will/mike) received extensive late-season work. Neither should be a lock to remain at his position listed above. Morgan, in my opinion, should receive spring work at WLB which would allow Smith to work at SLB and Schmidt to man the middle -- thus allowing the linebackers best trio for fall 2015 to work in unison. Martini appears a capable backup at both Mike and Will and could train as such.
Incoming Freshmen: In addition to Coney, four-star Ben-Davis HS (Indianapolis) prospect Asmar Bilal. (Film review and projection to be published Wednesday, Dec. 3).
Initial ProjectionListed anywhere from 6'0" to 6'2" (which likely means 6'0") and already 230 pounds, Coney's size suggests the mike 'backer role will be his initial and permanent home, especially when brought in along with likely weak side (will) linebacker prospect Asmar Bilal.
Coney has enough initial quickness and instincts to slide to the weak side, but his desire for contact isn't something that can be taught. The middle will come naturally to Coney. Conversely, the sam 'backer spot would be a challenge considering its pass coverage necessities and amount of field to cover.
Initial Concern after watching film: His stance and movements at first reminded me of 2008 freshman Steve Filer, who was a great athlete but poor fit at inside 'backer and thus moved to defensive end. (Filer was much taller than Coney). Coney, however, shows no lack of instincts on film which were readily apparent in Filer. The Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.-product appears well-versed in the game-within-the game at middle linebacker.
Key Takeaway: In addition to his film, interviews with Coney clearly illustrate his love for the sport and the inherent physical nature of the middle 'backer position, a necessity as he encounters similar athletes at the next level. Coney can be a player Irish fans enjoy watching on a weekly basis by his third season in the program or as a member of the team's two-deep inside at some point during Year 2.
Ideal Situation for Coney in 2015: A redshirt season. Putting a second season of eligibility between him and 2014 freshmen Morgan and Martini would be the best-case scenario for his future at the mike and/or will linebacker position. With more than half the freshmen class forced into action in 2014, it would be prudent for Brian Kelly & Co. to keep a few extra incoming pledges on the sidelines next fall, Coney included.
The position is not one at which a freshman is likely to thrive.