In the same vein of the frustration that stemmed from the offensive line group from 2013-2016, the Chargers linebacker group has been plagued with injuries for the last two seasons. So much to the point that Gus Bradley needed to play the final two games of the seasons with seven defensive backs on the field because that was still light-years better than being stuck with a combination of Kyle Emanuel, Nick Dzubnar, and Hayes Pullard in the middle.
Perryman missed another sizable chunk of the season and Jatavis Brown failed to finish the regular season healthy, once again. Kyzir White, the team’s starting weakside linebacker out of training camp, was playing exceptionally well until he sustained a knee injury in the second game of the season against the Buffalo Bills.
This cannot be the case any longer. The must find some help, via the draft or free agency, and find some continuity at the position before the team finds itself in a position where the defense must help out the new quarterback in town.
One player that intrigues me is Notre Dame’s versatile middle linebacker Te’Von Coney. He was a standout over the last three seasons for the Irish and had himself one of the better week’s among invited players at this year’s Reese’s Senior Bowl.
At the all-star showcase, Coney measured in at a hair under 6-foot-1 and 244 pounds. When I got the chance to speak with Coney during one of the week’s media sessions, he informed that 2018 was actually his first year playing middle linebacker. His previous three seasons were spent on the outside. If any, this shows a testament to his leadership abilities and football IQ that Coach Brian Kelly chose him to lead the defense when someone was needed to step into that role.
Coming out of Palm Beach Gardens High-School in Florida, Coney was the country’s 12-rated linebacker by 247Sports and the 20th outside linebacker according to ESPN. On ESPN’s 300 list, he was 295th.
After enrolling early at South Bend, Coney played as a true freshman, mainly on special teams and in a reserve role. As a sophomore, Coney was able to crack the starting lineup, playing in 12 total games while starting nine. He finished that year with 62 tackles and two for loss.
By his junior year in 2017, Coney still wasn’t the full-time starter. Although he only started seven of his team’s 13 games, he still finished the year as the leading-tackler on the team with 116 total stops. He also led the team with 13.5 tackles-for-loss and was second on the team with three sacks. On October 21st, Coney was named the Bednarik Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against USC where he collected 11 tackles, two tackles-for-loss, one sack, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery. After the postseason, he was named to the All-Bowl Team.
Prior to his senior season, Coney was named to a number of preseason watch lists, including the Butkus, Bronco Nagurski, and Bednarik Award lists. For the first time in his career, Coney started all 12 games for the Irish, leading the team in tackles again with 107. He added 9.5 tackles-for-loss, 3.5 sacks, with an interception and fumble recovery.
After watching the tape, there are a few traits that stand out to me immediately with Coney:
1.) He is taller than 5-foot-11. This is a big plus.
2.) He excels at sifting through garbage to find ball-carriers before they get a chance to break into the second level.
3.) He is very good in zone/short area coverage. His ability to stick his foot in the ground and drive on tight ends and running backs over the middle of the field was prevalent from the start.
One of his best games from 2018 was against Stanford and their Mackey Award finalist tight end, Kaden Smith. He was all over Smith from start to finish, breaking up several passes when the Cardinal repeatedly ran the Stick route concept against the Irish. Late in the fourth quarter, Coney sealed the win for the Irish after intercepting a late pass from Stanford quarterback KJ Costello on the same play he constantly made all game long.
Good news for the Bolts, if the team decides to go offensive and defensive line in the first two rounds, there’s a good chance Coney will still be available later on day two and possibly be one of the latest draft diamonds found by GM Tom Telesco and company.