ND A-to-Z: Drue Tranquill

Knee injuries have defined Tranquill’s playing career to date but with three seasons of eligibility remaining, one of the Irish defense’s best athletes is ready to assume a lead role.

Future captain? An injury-in-waiting? A natural born playmaker when attacking scrimmage? A potential playmaker for both teams on the back end?

Whatever your opinion of junior safety Drue Tranquill, the following cannot be contested: knee injuries and subsequent surgeries (November 2014 and September 2015) have defined his career to date, with the only silver lining that his latter injury occurred prior to the cutoff for a clear-cut redshirt season last fall.

Tranquill thus has three seasons of eligibility remaining, the first of which will clearly be played as Notre Dame’s starting strong safety in the base defense and as its “Joker” linebacker in defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s preferred sub packages.

Irish Illustrated’s A-to-Z preview of Notre Dame’s roster continues with Tranquill, an athlete that’s barely scratched the surface of his potential, but one already viewed as a leader, both in the locker room and between the lines.   

Tranquill not only excels as expected from the aforementioned Joker position but also as the unit’s strong safety in base sets. The latter includes supporting the run with authority and contending with inside receivers off the hash.

It’s a tall order for Tranquill, a player with the skill set of an undersized outside linebacker but the body of a large strong safety.

Regardless, Notre Dame’s defense will live and die with Tranquill’s efforts – the staff is well-aware of his plusses and minuses and what each means for the unit as a whole. He’s an athlete that will make big plays for Brian VanGorder’s defensive group on a weekly basis but a player that might struggle to consistently turn his hips and run downfield, a reality that presented in the Blue Gold Game last April when pitted vs. fleet-footed walk-on Chris Finke.

There’s no doubt Tranquill’s overall body of work will be valued – and needed – in South Bend. He’s one of the best football players on the 2016 squad, but one that has to prove he’s in the right position.

Aside from a third knee injury? It’s conceivable Tranquill will consistently struggle in coverage from his safety position, especially against the more potent passing games the Irish face.

Tranquill’s ideal role on a college football field is not yet proven, but that’s irrelevant for the forthcoming fall – he’s the best strong safety candidate Notre Dame has, and it’s not close.

George Streeter? John McLaughlin? Kinnon Tatum? Ron Israel? Zeke Motta?

Each is an apt point of comparison for Tranquill in terms of body type, with mid-1990s talents McLaughlin and Tatum also cast as “tweeners” (hybrid linebackers/safeties – both played linebacker) for Lou Holtz’s final Irish squads.

At present, Tranquill has recorded 10 more tackles than former teammate Elijah Shumate had through his first two seasons. Both had started four games entering their junior campaigns.

Tranquill was Scout.com’s 171st ranked prospect overall, a four-star pledge in the 2014 recruiting class.  

With three seasons of eligibility remaining, Tranquill is nowhere near a finished product. He’s played 14 games, started four, and registered 42 tackles while somehow notching 10 – TEN – defensive and/or special teams big plays during part-time duty.

Bless with good health in the future, Tranquill will likely blossom into a playmaking defender and a team captain. He’s already student-athlete revered by the staff and administration. Conversely, another lower body injury (knee/leg) would greatly impact his lateral quickness and suddenness. Tranquill can’t afford that if he’s to remain in the Irish defensive backfield.

In the role he was born to play, Tranquill was a one-man wrecking crew vs., fittingly, the Rambling Wreck of Georgia Tech and their vaunted triple-option offense last September.

In one half of action, Tranquill posted four total tackles including three for no gain or loss, while breaking up a third-down pass in the Irish end zone.

It was the latter play that resulted in the end of Tranquill’s sophomore season – injured celebrating with leaping teammate Joe Schmidt after the fact.

“Drue is very bright. Very good student of the game. It’s important to him. Any task you give him, he’s going to work at it and learn it. Because we’re more multiple, we like to take players like him who are high production players and be able to do more with them – like we did with Sheldon (Day), like we did with Jaylon (Smith) at times. He gives us a lot of advantages.” – Brian VanGorder on Tranquill

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