Notre Dame’s Drue Tranquill never stops learning on, off the football field

Notre Dame's Drue Tranquill reaches to tackle North Carolina quarterback Chazz Surratt (12) during the first half of a game last season in Chapel Hill, N.C. (By The Associated Press)
Notre Dame defensive coordinator Clark Lea speaks with the media at the Guglielmino Athletics Complex in South Bend last month. (By Tom Davis of
Notre Dame linebacker Drue Tranquill meets with the media following a training camp practice at Culver Academy last season. (By Tom Davis of

SOUTH BEND – Drue Tranquill has spent the past four years of his life ingesting a monumental amount of knowledge. When you graduate from Notre Dame with a 3.73 grade point average and a degree in mechanical engineering, you have spent your fair share of time with your nose in a book.

However, Tranquill’s intellectual development has extended from the classroom and included his athletic pursuits, as well.

The fifth-year Fighting Irish football player is undergoing the learning of a third position in the past three years and his next step in mastering that task gets underway Tuesday.

Notre Dame opens with the first of 15 spring football practices this week and the former Carroll High School standout is seeking to take the next step in his athletic growth.

One spring after moving from safety (which Tranquill played for parts of three seasons) to rover (an outside linebacker slot), Tranquill is going to work with first-year Irish defensive coordinator Clark Lea on perfecting his ability to line up at weakside linebacker.

“He has one year of experience now playing at the second level (of a defense),” Lea told last month. “So there is probably a broad spectrum of things that he is going to enhance in little ways.”

Lea coached Tranquill last season when he served as linebackers coach, and he will continue leading that group this season, in addition to managing the defense overall. That, coupled with the fact that Tranquill was much more comfortable (and productive) in the middle layer of the defense, as opposed to the back end, was one of several aspects that allowed Tranquill to make a quick decision to return to South Bend for one more season, as opposed to seeking to make the NFL.

“He sees a place where he is going to be developed,” Lea said of Tranquill returning to the program. “He experienced development over the course of this past year and I think that he was attracted to that.

“I know that he is going to function in a positive work environment and I know that is important to him.”

That wasn’t necessarily what had transpired earlier in his career.

Tranquill was an effective player at the safety level, but not nearly to the degree that playing closer to the line of scrimmage allowed him to be.

A look at his statistical growth tells part of that story.

At the rover position, Tranquill did increase his amount of tackles marginally from 79 to 85, but that didn’t really capture how much more comfortable he felt last fall.

Former defensive coordinator Mike Elko took Tranquill out of positions in which he had to cover in space and utilized his athleticism as a pass-rusher and play-maker from the rover spot.

The result was an increase from two tackles for a loss to 10 ½ last season.

In addition, Tranquill was all over the place making his presence felt.

He sacked the quarterback 1 ½ times, broke up three passes, picked off one, forced a fumble and recovered three others.

“He is an analytical mind,” Lea said, “but I don’t think that you watched him play last year and said ‘That guy was getting in his own way.’ He cut loose. But stepping back, I think this off-season time that we can spend together will allow us to talk broader concepts. It will give him a better frame of reference for ‘This is my responsibility and this is why I’m doing this.'”

Lea has said that the three linebacker positions are somewhat interchangeable, so Tranquill may indeed line up in an array of places on the field and in different alignments.

“We’re looking at small changes, one degree changes in his game,” Lea said. “Obviously, we were incredibly pleased with his progress through the course of last year.”


Though Lea minimized (to a degree) the areas of development that he is seeking out of Tranquill, he did get specific regarding three aspects of Tranquill’s game that he wants to see growth in 2018.

Here is a look at those three areas.

• Thought

“Drue is an engineer,” Lea said, “so getting him to release some of his rule-driven thought process and to think big picture. That will allow him to harness that athleticism, that skill, and go play.

“That is something that we will work on at this time of year.”

• Comfort

“It is still building upon a comfort level of playing at the line of scrimmage,” Lea said. “The offensive lineman triggering my first movement and the twitch required to play gaps.”

• Get there

“The third thing would be the mechanics of being a good blitzer,” Lea said. “Understanding his responsibility within a blitz, executing that blitz track and winning in a pass-rush scenario.

“I think that is another place in which he can build into a better player.”

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