Notre Dame LB Nyles Morgan looking to 'establish a dominant culture' in senior season

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Nyles Morgan said it as clearly — and as often — as someone can.

The question was, “Are you planning to return to Notre Dame for your senior season?”

“Oh. Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Morgan said, the words jumbling together into one continuous sprawl. “Definitely. Yeah.”

Morgan was one of four Irish underclassmen — quarterback DeShone Kizer, offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey and offensive guard Quenton Nelson being the others — to request feedback from the NFL Draft Advisory Board last month.

But while it can be valuable to test the waters, Morgan was never planning on swimming away.

“I just kind of want to see where I stand amongst the greatest in the NFL,” the 6-foot-1, 245-pound linebacker said.

Notre Dame’s starting middle linebacker erased any doubt of his dedication on Friday night, moments after being named the team’s defensive newcomer of the year and a 2017 team captain at the annual Echoes awards banquet. But on a night geared towards reflection, Morgan was focused on the future as well.

“We just need to establish a dominant culture, guys really understanding what the goal is,” said the junior linebacker, who led Notre Dame with 94 tackles and four sacks in 2016. “The goal is to win games — and not by a little bit, by a lot. Hopefully everybody came here to win a national championship. That’s my goal. It won’t change.”

The goals won’t change, but what about the results? In the wake of an underwhelming 4-8 season, head coach Brian Kelly named team captains a full eight months ahead of time to help jumpstart a transformative offseason. Much of that leadership will come from the linebacker corps, where 2016 captain James Onwualu departs but Morgan and Greer Martini — another of Friday’s captain picks — should more than fill the void.

The goal this winter, for Morgan and Martini, is not just to make strides, but to bring guys like Te’von Coney, Asmar Bilal, Josh Barajas, Jonathan Jones and Jamir Jones along with them.

“We’re going to be very solid at linebacker, because our guys that are younger know our scheme. They know our defense,” Morgan said. “They have the same mentality. We’re going to have some ballers at LB, especially because we have two captains there.”

And, in truth, Morgan was already a captain. After playing only sparingly in his first two seasons in South Bend, the Crete, Ill., native proved himself to his teammates and coaches last fall. He didn’t need a physical letter to prove how much he means to the Irish defense.

But since it was offered to him, will he accept it?

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Definitely.

“I was always a guy that was on other guys, making sure guys were doing the right thing all the time, working hard, pushing forward,” Morgan said. “It’s good to have the ‘C’ on the jersey, though. It’s nice.”

Stay or go?

ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. weighed in on two other Notre Dame underclassmen, McGlinchey and Nelson, during a media teleconference last week.

Both could wiggle their way into the first round, Kiper said, should they declare for the 2017 NFL Draft.

But that doesn’t mean they should.

“You look at the guards, and with the way (Nelson) plays and the aggressiveness he shows and the consistency from week to week, I thought he would be little more dominant in some games than he was, but he’s a good football player,” Kiper said of Nelson, a 6-5, 325-pound junior.

“He’s the best guard in a class that’s not bad, actually. Overall, if he came out, I still think he’d be in the late first, early second-round mix. If he goes back he can go a little higher. By going back (to Notre Dame), he can upgrade his stock.”

McGlinchey has said repeatedly that he’ll return to South Bend for his fifth and final season in 2017.

And if he follows through on that promise, the first round may still be waiting for him.

“I think McGlinchey … it’s a tough call, because there’s not a lot of offensive linemen,” Kiper said of the 6-8, 310-pound offensive tackle. “He was good, not great, this year. He had some iffy games in terms of being a first rounder, and others where he did look like a first-round pick.

“If he goes back, I think he’d round it off and become more consistent and go in round one (in 2018). He’s still a possibility (for the first round in 2017), more so because there’s not many offensive tackles this year.”

mvorel@ndinsider.com

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Notre Dame’s Nyles Morgan (5) celebrates making a tackle during the Miami at Notre Dame NCAA college football game Saturday Oct. 29, 2016, inside Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA