Try to keep Drue Tranquill off the field.
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly couldn’t do it this week, not with Tranquill back and at full strength after a second miraculously-quick recovery from ACL surgery. So when the Irish defense went live on Wednesday, there was Tranquill, two rebuilt knees not even a thought for the rising junior safety.
“There was some question as to whether he’d be allowed to do that,” Kelly said on Wednesday. “That was answered today. I think he answered it—he did not come off the field when we went live. So he kind of forced the issue. He looks good.”
Tranquill looks good enough to pencil in at strong safety, given the opportunity to start after backing up Elijah Shumate and serving as a key piece of the situational puzzle for Brian VanGorder. So while incumbent free safety Max Redfield’s job seems less secure than ever, it’s Tranquill—who has spent more time rehabilitating than playing football these past two-plus years—ready to step in and serve as a (rebuilt) building block in a rebuilt secondary.
Tranquill’s presence could serve as a binding agent for the defense. Between his injury and the loss of freshman Shaun Crawford during fall camp, ACL injuries impacted the secondary more than any of the injury-ravaged spots on the roster. Now Tranquill’s leadership skills and nose for the game—both sharpened during his recoveries—can help raise the collectively on-field IQ of a young defense that lost a lot to graduation.
“It’s all you can do at that point— you’re physically out. So your mental game is really the only thing that can grow, your leadership can grow as well,” Tranquill said of his time spent studying and helping. “That’s kind of how I saw my role develop over the past few years.”
Spring is a time for learning, and Todd Lyght’s secondary is in the midst of a cram session that’ll have to carry over to summer and fall camp. And with Tranquill ready to go from productive situational player to starting strong safety, it’s now his job to lift the rest of his young teammates and make sure the mental lapses that killed this defense in 2015 don’t do the same thing next season.
After shaking off two major knee injuries, don’t expect that assignment to scare off Tranquill.