Can LB Te'von Coney be even better for Notre Dame in 2018?

Tyler James | South Bend Tribune
ND Insider

Fourteen words from Te’von Coney should have opposing offensive coordinators worried.

“I think I’m going to be able to put it all together this year,” the senior linebacker said Friday following Notre Dame’s first practice of preseason camp at Culver Academies.

Which means the 6-foot-1, 240-pound defensive menace has more left in his arsenal after a breakout junior season. Coney totaled 116 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss and three sacks last season despite starting in only seven of the last eight games. He capped his season with a 17-tackle performance against LSU in the Music City Bowl.

“Every time I get a chance to go out there and showcase it, I want to be able to go out there and show that I’m the best player on the field, the best linebacker in the country,” Coney said. “Having the opportunity against LSU, a great SEC school, I just wanted to be able to show that I could play at that level and I’m one of the best.”

Coney’s emergence put him in a position to weigh the chance of entering his name into the NFL Draft pool. Instead, he returned for his final year of eligibility in an Irish uniform to play for defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Clark Lea.

Coney gives Notre Dame a tackling machine, in the words of head coach Brian Kelly, in the middle of its defense. It’s a term Coney agrees he embodies.

“When a running back has the ball or whoever has the ball, I want to be the guy that goes and gets the ball down and gives my team a chance to win,” Coney said. “Any chance I can get to make the tackle, I want to do it.”

But what the Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) High product wants to do in his first season as a full-time starter is become more than a wrecking ball against the run. He spent his offseason doing yoga and working on his flexibility in an effort to be better in pass coverage.

In Coney’s mind, he’s going to be able to terrorize tight ends and wide receivers in addition to quarterbacks and running backs. Coney failed to record a pass breakup or interception in his junior season.

“This time I want to get some more interceptions,” Coney said, “being able to show off my flexibility and how I can cover in space man-to-man and zone drops, understanding the passing schemes and being able to show the league that I’m a complete player and that I’ve continued to learn and have gotten better in the last year.”

A second go-round in director of football performance Matt Balis’ offseason conditioning program included climbing every step (roughly 3,600) in Notre Dame Stadium one morning in June. Coney said it took him nearly 30 minutes to complete the task.

“It was awesome,” Coney said. “It was good to get in there and run the whole stadium to know when Sept. 1 comes how much sweat and tears you put into that stadium. You go out there and you put your all on the field.”

The exercise was a complete surprise to the Irish players. Yet everyone on the team finished the run, Coney said.

“(Balis) has this saying, ‘Don’t flinch.’ That’s the team motto,” Coney said. “Don’t flinch no matter how hard it is. You go out there and you go full speed and you make it happen.”

That relentless attitude is central to Coney’s philosophy on tackling.

“First off, having instincts,” Coney said of what makes a great tackler. “You want to get yourself in a good position to make a play on the ball carrier. Just being aggressive and being violent. Everything else will come.”

Coney said Balis has helped make him “bulletproof.” He has shared photos of the gradual chiseling of an already sculpted body on Twitter. After making big plays last season, Coney would regularly strike the same pose. He stood nonchalantly with his arms crossed, muscles in his arms bulging, as if to say, “What else did you expect from me?”

The biggest challenge for Coney now may be refusing to become complacent. He worked for so long to become the clear-cut starter at linebacker for Notre Dame. Now he’s established himself as one of the best players on a defense expected to have another big season.

He knows he’s going to be counted on from the start.

“Coach Lea, coach Kelly, everybody’s going to continue to coach me hard no matter what,” Coney said. “Taking that advice, coming on the field each and every day, and working on things, it will improve my game automatically.”

A better Coney is a scary thought.

Notre Dame linebacker Te’von Coney (4) wants to improve on his pass coverage a year after emerging as a dominant run defender.