2018 Wuerffel Trophy recipient had impressive rookie season with the Chargers
With preseason dialogue primarily circulating around a team's top draft pick or established stars, it can be easy to fly under the radar as a mid-round selection.
Consequently, rookie linebacker Drue Tranquill, a fourth round selection out of the University of Notre Dame, entered training camp with the mentality of embracing whichever role the Chargers' coaching staff had planned for him.
But as the season progressed, hard work and maturity well-beyond his years helped Tranquill catch the eye and earn the trust of defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. After taking advantage of early opportunities on special teams, the 24-year-old earned his way to a high amount of defensive snaps and finished the season as the Chargers' second-leading tackler with 75 total tackles.
"I think, individually, my idea and my goal was just to embrace my role, whatever that was," Tranquill said. "Early on, that was special teams, so I did my best to make tackles, make plays, block kicks and do what I could do to help our team in that way. It's kind of evolved a little bit more into a defensive role now."
Tranquill got off to a fast start in the NFL, recording a blocked punt on special teams in his first career game Week 1 against the Colts.
From there, Tranquill continued to excel in a special teams role. In addition to blocking another punt against the Packers in Week 9, Tranquill continued to find himself in the right place at the right time, finishing the season tied for eighth in the NFL in special teams tackles with 11.
"We felt like he's playing more like a veteran player," Bradley said of Tranquill. "The way he picks things up, the way he understands the defense, the concepts. Some of the things that we're asking players to do, it seemed like it didn't take him as long to pick it up."
Impressed with the rookie's early success on special teams, Bradley decided to give Tranquill more opportunities on defense. And whether it was lining up at any of the linebacker positions on any given play, Tranquill continued to seize any opportunity he received.
"What (Tranquill) gives us is versatility," Bradley said. "He can go in and play MIKE, he can play dime, he can play WILL. He's a guy that, any time we need a break or someone goes down, he can flip over there and we really don't lose much."
Having played both linebacker and safety throughout his five seasons at Notre Dame, Tranquill brought a "quickness" and "instinct" the team targeted heading into last year's draft, according to Bradley.
"(Tranquill) earned a role in special teams, earned a role playing in nickel, then earned a role playing in base, and did a really nice job," Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said. "He's smart, he's tough, he runs well. (He) fits (with) a lot of things we want to do on defense."
From amassing five tackles in the first five minutes of the Chargers game against Jacksonville, to playing every defensive snap and compiling a team-leading 14 total tackles against the Raiders, Tranquill's maturity and leadership qualities have stood out to head coach Anthony Lynn this season.
"His intangibles," Lynn said. "He was a two-time captain at Notre Dame. That was something that we loved about him. Those intangibles are starting to show in our locker room right now and on the football field. He's going to be a heck of a pro. I'm glad we have him."
While Lynn already saw the linebacker enacting a leadership role in his rookie season, Tranquill attests that much of his growth this year can be attributed to sharing a linebackers room with veterans Thomas Davis and Denzel Perryman.
"(Both) of those guys have played a really long time," Tranquill said. "I learned a lot from them… I think in your rookie year, it's less introspective and more of just being a sponge and trying to learn and soak things up. So I credit those guys just for walking with me and helping me throughout my rookie year."
While Tranquill certainly stood out on special teams and on defense, the linebacker admits he still has areas where he's likely to improve his game before the 2020 season.
"You're constantly evolving in your experience," Tranquill said. "Obviously, I would say that I'm not a super-experienced player, but I certainly don't feel like a rookie anymore. I feel like one of the guys. I feel like a guy who can help our team win, who can contribute on the field on Sundays."
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