Consider yourselves on notice. This feels (and looks) like the year we’ll finally see the best of Notre Dame DL Jerry Tillery.
A former 4-star recruit, Tillery’s development and improvement as a player has been a four-year saga. Slowly but surely, Tillery has been able to develop his frame, his strength, his mobility and his production. Now? The sky is the limit if Tillery is able to harness his performance against Michigan and replicate it on a weekly basis.
Tillery came into Notre Dame as a 6-foot-6, 305 pound defensive tackle. But his body wasn’t where it needed to be if he were ever to compete at a high level. So what did the Irish staff do? Naturally pair him with the strongest guy on the roster, Guard Quenton Nelson.
Nelson has since moved on to the NFL, he was the 6th overall pick by the Indianapolis Colts this past April. Tillery will be joining him in the league next year and if his play against Michigan has anything to say about it, he could be a fairly high pick himself.
In the build-up to Tillery’s senior season, some concerns have been present about his ability to anchor at the line of scrimmage. For a bigger body, Tillery has struggles in instances with leverage, resulting in some frustrating plays at the point of attack.
Week 1 against Michigan? Tillery offered one excellent example of just how far he’s come.
This is, quietly, an excellent play. Tillery laterally steps out of his stance and is simultaneously able to land a strike with his right hand on Michigan’s Center. That lateral step allows Tillery to defeat the angle of the down block.
After re-anchoring, Tillery effectively discards of the Center with a tight rip/club concept. As Tillery uncovers in the A-gap, he’s able to hold his ground and challenge the back for a stuff on 3rd and short.
It’s all about anchor ability and functional strength. As recently as last season, these types of plays would yield Tillery conceding a yard to get off the block. Or perhaps he’d get ridden out of the play after the rip/club.
It’s just one game, but Tillery physically didn’t look this controlled or powerful in 2017. And his improvements weren’t limited to just the run game.
Here is a look at two similar Tillery pass rushes. One was from Notre Dame’s loss to Stanford in 2017, the other from this past weekend’s win over Michigan.
Tillery lands his hands and engages in a push/pull in order to turn the shoulders of Stanford’s Left Guard. It’s an effective move, as is the secondary rip that lifts hands off his chest. But the acceleration to the target isn’t great and QB KJ Costello is able to get this throw out.
Part of the limitation can be pointed to Tillery’s feet. As he transitions from push to rip, you can clearly see Tillery’s feet cross over. There’s some tightness in his hips and that limits his ability to step through the rip and leave the Guard in the dust.
Compare that with this past weekend’s sack of Michigan QB Shea Patterson.
Tillery is again implementing a two part pass rush move. Here, Tillery yanks his blocker off his set, showing admirable upper body strength before sweeping his left arm through on a swim to ensure his opponent is unable to reset his hands. Ignore the fact that the swim doesn’t connect, as the initial move displaced his blocker so much that it was a hollow follow up.
More importantly, look at the follow through. Tillery’s base is much more balanced. He’s able to transition out of the counter with an authoritative step up the field. There’s also burst to the target, unlike a similar looking rep from the year before.
These signs of progression may finally mean Tillery is living up to his potential coming out of high school several seasons ago. The Irish will need him if they are to be this physical all year long. And Tillery will need to bring this level of effectiveness to reshape his 2019 NFL Draft perception.
The Irish have their next big test on September 29th, a home tilt against the Stanford Cardinal.