It looked like Te’von Coney had a difficult job when it was only filling the shoes of the nation’s best linebacker. But the rising sophomore’s ascent into the starting lineup was thrown off course when he was injured just plays after Jaylon Smith in January’s Fiesta Bowl, setting off on his own grueling recovery after undergoing major shoulder surgery.
Coney wasn’t a part of spring practice as the rebuilt linebacking corps looked for answers with a skeleton squad. And while Brian Kelly has been optimistic about the players he has recovering from injury, Coney’s real test will be getting back into the swing of things this August, with a rebuilt linebacking corps looking for answers in the run-up to Austin.
The Irish have a talented young linebacker in Coney. Now it’s up to his shoulder to cooperate.
6’1″, 235 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 4, LB
An Under Armour All-American and consensus four-star prospect. Coney visited campus for Irish Invasion and Notre Dame won a hard-fought recruiting battle over schools like Florida, Ohio State, Alabama, Miami, Auburn and dozens more.
Give an assist to Florida for firing Will Muschamp. Coney looked destined for Gainesville until the wheels came off the wagon. Also give credit to Coney for making the tough decision to leave his comfort zone, a rare Palm Beach prospect to head to South Bend.
Freshman Season (2014): Played in 12 games, making 13 tackles including a half TFL. Replaced Jaylon Smith early in the Fiesta Bowl at Will linebacker before severely injuring his shoulder just plays later.
WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR
It’s too early to see how Hilliard will turn out in Columbus, but we had last season pegged pretty well.
I’m not sure how Coney makes his impact this season, but I expect him to play. He’ll be a regular on special teams, and will likely fight his way into the rotation, especially if Jaylon Smith plays on the edge of the defense.
There’s an argument for redshirting Coney, saving a year of eligibility and then allowing him to plug in with Nyles Morgan in 2016. But I just think there’s too much talent here to assume Coney will stay in South Bend for five seasons, so might as well make the most out of the talented rookie.
Bold prediction: Blue-chipper Justin Hilliard may have been the linebacker Irish fans thought was the must-have prospect in the class. But when all is said and done, I expect Coney to be the more productive college player.
A lot of this potential is tied up in the recovery of Coney’s shoulder. While we spend most of our time worrying about football players’ knees, shoulder injuries tend to be more difficult to recover from, and the timing of Coney’s certainly wasn’t ideal.
At this point, it’s not fair to assume Coney won’t recover fully from surgery. And if he does, there’s a reason the true freshman was the next man in behind Jaylon Smith. There’s athleticism-a-plenty in Coney and his ability to jump into the two-deep also shows plenty of football acumen.
This arrow stays pointed up.
Athletically, Coney feels like the best fit for the starting job. But inevitably, this will come down to how quickly he gets back in the swing of things and how impactful Greer Martini can be in this defense.
A healthy Coney is a starter in this scheme. But his development as a player was put on hold this offseason. Coney’s still a sophomore who missed half a year in the weight room after just 61 snaps—the majority coming against UMass—so it’s hard to say he’s a better option than Martini, acknowledging that the veteran might be playing slightly out of position.
Still, this staff has a major belief that Coney will be an impact player. I’m just reluctant to think it’ll happen in 2016 until we get more information about his shoulder injury.
2016’s Irish A-to-Z