Nyles Morgan’s surprising resurgence continues. Today, he was named to the Butkus Award preseason watch list. The Butkus Award is given annually to the nation’s top linebacker. Jaylon Smith and Manti Te’o are Notre Dame’s most recent award-winners. Could Nyles Morgan be the next?
The Butkus Award honors the best linebacker in high school and in college. Both Te’o and Smith won at both levels. Semifinalists will be named at the end of October and finalists at the end of November. The winner will be announced on December 6, 2016.
Nyles Morgan finished last season with nine (9) solo and eight (8) assisted tackles, behind Daniel Cage, Jarrett Grace, and Greer Martini. By all accounts, 2015 was a season to forget for the Irish linebacker. For some, his drop in productivity was the result of mismanagement, or worse, by the coaching staff. Regardless, his freshman year was more than solid: forty-seven (47) total tackles, of which twenty-three (23) were solo.
I think this nod by the national nabobs is more evidence that Morgan’s performance last season had more to do with what goes on the in the dark of the Gug and far less with the player’s ability to learn the scheme. How else to explain his inability to find the field last season?
While Coach Kelly has admitted that his staff were loyal to Joe Schmidt “to a fault,” that, in and of itself, cannot explain how a player with a freshman season like consistently loses out on snaps to a guy whose speed put the “walk” in “walk on.” Morgan’s absence from the field, and when he was on the field, from the play, made 2015 tough to watch. That he is counted amount the country’s fifty-one best linebackers at the moment is equal parts recognition of his talent and potential.
Without Joe Schmidt and Jaylon Smith in front of him, Morgan’s options this year are few: sink or swim. How he fares against a markedly improved Texas team to open the season will go a long way towards telling us what choice, if it is a choice, he has made. More profoundly, though, Nyles’ productivity at the Mike position will play an out-sized role in how much slack, if any, Coach VanGorder gets at the helm of the defense. If Morgan is successful and he calls solid games, BVG may just be onto something. If, however, the Irish continue to break down, I can’t see Uncle Rico driving the van back to South Bend for another season.
Injury can excuse a lot of poor performances, e.g. 2014. So can academic suspensions, e.g. well, you get the idea. With the Irish healthy and experienced in the defensive scheme, this should be the season where Nyles Morgan goes from the backup’s backup to the Butkus Award.