It was a worst-case scenario that everybody missed.
Just snaps after Jaylon Smith’s devastating knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl, his backup went down too, removing a high-end athlete from the defense and stopping Te’von Coney from getting a jump on a starting job.
As much as Smith’s torn ligaments and nerve damage affected the NFL Draft, the blown out shoulder of Coney will have a bigger impact on Notre Dame. The sophomore missed winter conditioning and spring practice following surgery. It’s not clear how ready he’ll be for summer workouts, even if Brian Kelly is optimistic about getting Coney back. Regardless of his return date, the 6-foot-1, 235-pound sophomore will be behind in August after his truncated off-season.
That’s a shame for the Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., product, who enrolled early out of high school and fought his way into the depth chart. While classmates Asmar Bilal and Josh Barajas took red-shirts, Coney was clearly ahead thanks to that extra semester. Will his lost spring open the door for Bilal to take the Will linebacker spot? Could Greer Martini, coming off his own shoulder injury, slide there? Or will Coney overcome his injury setback to retake the job?
Coney is next in Irish Illustrated’s A-to-Z series.
Not only does Coney’s surgically repaired shoulder get back to full strength, it does so early enough that he gets a full summer session of weight training. Don’t underestimate the impact of seven months away from Paul Longo for a young player who needs to strengthen his game inside the weight room as much as he does on the actual practice field. A full summer of work sharpens Coney enough that he wins the starting Will linebacker position, where he lines up next to Nyles Morgan the next two seasons. There’s a clear path to the starting lineup for Coney if healthy. And if he succeeds, the Irish could have an uber physical combination of inside linebackers.
Shoulder surgeries aren’t career-ending, but they’ve been career-altering for many. Joe Schmidt, Bennett Jackson, Doug Randolph, Chase Hounshell and Nicky Baratti were some of Notre Dame’s shoulder repairs who were never really the same after things started to go bad. The constant car crash impact on that joint proved too much to bear. Will Coney be next in that line? It’s impossible to know until he powers his through a running back this fall, but the blow he took at Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl didn’t look like a brutal impact. A source told Irish Illustrated immediately after the game that Coney’s shoulder would need reconstruction, which proved accurate.
Coney played in every game last season, save Notre Dame’s comeback win at Virginia. He finished with 13 tackles, the most in the freshman class, actually beating out Jerry Tillery by one tackle. Yet Coney was never really in the defensive rotation. Now he’s in a position to start as a sophomore. That career arc is similar to Toryan Smith (2006-09) and Tyreo Harrison (1998-2001). Both inside linebackers played special teams as freshmen and got some work on defense. Smith never became more than a part-time starter. Harrison evolved into a two-year leader and NFL Draft pick.
Development Vs. Recruiting Ranking
There was a healthy spread in recruiting rankings for Coney, ranking from a high (Rivals) of No. 118 overall in the nation at No. 6 among inside linebackers to low (Scout) of three-star status and No. 17 among inside linebackers. Both ESPN and 247 had Coney virtually identical at No. 295 overall and No. 294 overall, respectively. However, ESPN listed Coney as an outside linebacker. As is the case with Notre Dame’s other two sophomore linebackers, it’s too soon to tell who got Coney right.
Coney At His Best
It has to be the UMass game only because that’s the one where Coney played the most, finishing with four tackles. He also got some work in starting goal line situations in higher stakes games, including Stanford, which might be more impressive than being the second-team Will linebacker behind Jaylon Smith. After burning a year of eligibility for scant work, the best is in front of Coney.
Quote To Note
“He’s very physical. He’s a guy who’s a ball player. Whether it’s his technique or whether it’s sound or not, at the end of the day he knows how to get the ball and secure the tackle. It’s just a matter of putting all those things together and that’s something that he’s doing.” – Jaylon Smith on Te’von Coneynull