During the second quarter of the Blue-Gold Game on Saturday, Brandon Wimbush completed a matter-of-fact pass to Alizé Mack on 3rd-and-2 for a five-yard gain. Daelin Hayes made the tackle.
None of that was more interesting than what Drue Tranquill did on the backside of the play.
Notre Dame’s new outside linebacker lined up over a slot receiver pre-snap, then motioned to blitz around left tackle Mike McGlinchey as Wimbush readied to start the play. But at the snap Tranquill jumped inside, going straight at All-American left guard Quenton Nelson.
Tranquill put a spin move on Nelson so devastating that it’s not clear if the 6-foot-5, 329-pound lineman got a finger tip to Tranquill’s jersey or whiffed completely.
“I’m gonna say it’s total air,” Tranquill said. “That was my favorite play of the whole scrimmage for myself. I felt most satisfied. Quenton, he’s gonna be a first-round guy, so to be able to execute that, it felt good, it felt fluid, it felt smooth. It’s cool to kind of see those workouts come through in a game-like situation.”
Tranquill finished with four tackles, two of them going for losses. One of three linebackers to be captains, it’s easy to imagine the converted safety leading Notre Dame in many things this fall, including TFLs.
As much as Brian Kelly doesn’t want to close the door on Asmar Bilal at the Rover position, it’s difficult to make a case for anyone but Tranquill there. If the safeties hold up at the back, this job should go fulltime to a player who’s overcome two ACL tears and being force fit into Brian VanGorder’s scheme.
“It’s been a good fit all spring,” Kelly said. “He’s a plus player there for us. He really can impact what's happening from snap to snap. He's a physical player and playing low to the ball is really where he can do a lot of really good things for us.”
Tranquill has been so good at Rover during spring ball that it’s hard to understand how the previous regime stuck him at safety in the first place. Tranquill is up front that his previous position didn’t play to his strengths, admitting it was out of necessity more than optimization.
No longer, at least in theory.
“Might not be my strength to play off the hash, but I had to do that for us,” Tranquill said. “To have a position where I’m able to move down to have young guys that are ready to step into that, Jalen Elliott, Nick Coleman, Devin Studstill, those guys are kind of able to take over the safety position and allowing me to move into a position where I think a lot more of my strengths are shown.”
That makes this season a potential feel good story for Tranquill considering his winding road to Notre Dame, injury hurdles once he got here, this change of positions, this change of coordinators and now his captaincy. For the faith-based senior, it all feels meant to be.
“Every day my mindset was, ‘I’m just gonna continue to walk this path. I know He has a purpose for my life,’” Tranquill said. “I know there’s a reason that I’m here. I felt that even in the recruiting process, right? For months I went back and forth between here and Purdue. There was something about this place that I just felt was special and felt that I needed to come here.
“I mean, there’s been ups and downs with injuries, with bad seasons and stuff, but I really do believe He had a purpose for me coming here and maybe this is it. We’ll see. I’ll continue to stay on my path.”