Considered one of the top prospects in the country – Scout rated him the No. 18 offensive tackle and the 213th overall player – 6-foot-6½, 310-pound Jerry Tillery made a strong impression along the defensive line as an early-entry freshman in the spring of ’15.
One of four Irish freshman to arrive for the ’15 spring semester, joining fellow defensive lineman Micah Dew-Treadway, offensive lineman Tristen Hoge and linebacker Te’von Coney, Tillery ran with the No. 1 unit a majority of the time during pre-season preparation before giving way to Daniel Cage against Texas and Virginia in the first two games of the ’15 season.
Tillery would start three games – Georgia Tech, Navy and Stanford – and finished with 12 tackles, two tackles for loss, and a sack (vs. Texas). Although he warmed up with his team prior to the Fiesta Bowl, he did not play against Ohio State due to a University-imposed suspension.
Tillery moved from nose tackle to defensive tackle in the spring, where he failed to nail down a No. 1 spot. He projects as the starter ahead of classmates Elijah Taylor and Dew-Treadway, both of whom red-shirted in ’15.
• BEST-CASE SCENARIO
Tillery solidifies his starting role in August and begins to emerge as a steady contributor on the interior of Notre Dame’s defensive line. Tillery taps into his length/talent and uses his quickness and lateral range to give the Irish a capable if not the spectacular presence Sheldon Day was at the three-technique.
• WORST-CASE SCENARIO
Tillery picks up where he left off in the spring, which was deemed by defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder to be mostly an underachieving 15 practices. Tillery remains a key cog along the defensive front, but his inconsistency leads to a shift of Jarron Jones to defensive tackle with Cage taking over at the nose.
• CAREER COMPARISON
In 2015, Tillery became the seventh defensive lineman to enter Notre Dame early since the University began accepting high school seniors in the spring semester of 2006. He joined Sean Cwynar (2008), Tyler Stockton (2009), Aaron Lynch and Brad Carrico (2011), Sheldon Day (2012), Andrew Trumbetti (2014) and Micah Dew-Treadway (2015). Daelin Hayes and Khalid Kareem added their names to the list of early-entry freshman defensive linemen this spring.
A physical comparison would be Greg Pauly, also a two-way player who ended up on the defensive line where he ultimately developed into a quality tackle by his fifth year in 2004 when he finished with 37 tackles, 5 ½ tackles for loss and a sack.
In 2011, Stephon Tuitt played in nine games, starting three, for the Irish. He totaled 30 tackles, three tackles for loss and a couple of sacks as a 6-foot-6½, 312-pound true freshman.
• DEVELOPMENT VS. RECRUITING RANKING
Listed as a four-star prospect out of Shreveport, La., and the No. 18 offensive tackle in the country, Tillery’s immediate emergence was commensurate to his ranking, although it was on the opposite side of the football. He played in all 12 regular-season games and started three.
• TILLERY AT HIS BEST
Tillery had at least one tackle in six of 12 regular-season games. His only tackle in his collegiate debut against Texas was a sack. His four tackles at Clemson, including a tackle for loss, were a personal high. He also had three stops versus Georgia Tech.
• QUOTE OF NOTE
“He’s working on it. The three-technique has a little more thought to it and a few more obstacles than the nose. The nose is probably easier. But he does have a great amount of athleticism and I think he’s going to be a special guy there.”
-- DL coach Keith Gilmore
“Inconsistent, very inconsistent.”
-- DC Brian VanGorder