Drue Tranquill Jersey

NOTRE DAME — “It’s just a waiting game. It’s like can this thing be over? Can April be here? Can I get my playbook already? Can I start learning? Can I start doing what I’ve done for the last 4 or 5 years?” said former Notre Dame football standout Drue Tranquill.

Tranquill is one of several former Notre Dame players anxiously waiting to hear his name called this week in the 2019 NFL Draft.

His path from the high school gridiron to the NFL wouldn’t have happened without plenty of perseverance and encouragement throughout his five-year journey.

He switched between three different positions-safety, rover, and finally linebacker – all while navigating an obstacle course of injuries.

Tranquill tore the ACL in his left knee during his freshman season, and just a year later, he snapped that same ligament in his right knee.

He continued to fight to get back on the field and eventually led the Irish to their first ever College Football Playoff berth in his fifth and final season. Tranquill was later honored as the 2018 Wuerffel Trophy Recipient, a Senior Bowl Participant and Notre Dame’s Rockne Student Athlete Award.

While accepting the award honoring his leadership as a two-time captain, Tranquill addressed his teammates and coaches with this line: “I want to take some time to recognize someone who doesn’t get a lot of attention around here, and that’s my dear friend Keith Penrod.”

During his time on campus, Tranquill struck up a special friendship with Keith Penrod — also known as Notre Dame’s #1 fan.

“He’s a guy that when I was going through a tough time my freshman and sophomore years with my ACL’s,” added Tranquill, “He’s a guy that just sat there after practice and would just talk to me and uplift me and encourage me.”

Keith Penrod was only given 48 hours to live when he was born with cerebral palsy, but that was over 60 years ago. In his time on Earth, Penrod has found a special way to spread his message through the Irish family.

“I think Keith is an angel from heaven and I honestly believe that because he sees things and hears things that guys need to hear at the exact moment and time that he says them,” said Tranquill. “So there have been moments in my career where I’ve just been struggling with injury, being away from my family, or going through a 4-8 season. Just all the ups and downs that have come with my experience here and he’s just been here to give me the right word, the encouragement that I need.”

Penrod helped Tranquill in his fight to get back on the field as he recovered from his knee surgeries.

Tranquill had no idea that he would eventually be able to return the favor to the Irish’s biggest fan.

Earlier this fall, Penrod was hit by a car and has spent the entire year rehabbing a broken ankle.

“He was just driving home after one of our practices and he always stays so late to hang out with us and was driving home in the dark,” said Tranquill. “Someone backed into him and broke his leg and so obviously having cerebral palsy his body isn’t in the best shape as is. His recovery process is just much longer and he’s been in the hospital all year.”

And a lot like the athletes that he counsels, Penrod has continued to fight.

He was released from the rehab center earlier this week, just in time to watch his favorite Irish football stars on their big night.

“Keith is Notre Dame because he’s Notre Dame, win or lose,” said Tranquill. “He’s Notre Dame when we’re 4-8. He’s Notre Dame when we’re 12-0. Keith Penrod has a passion for this family. He’s just the definition of a guy pursuing excellence in everything he does and looking to others and not himself.”

Trey Pipkins Jersey

COSTA MESA — Trey Pipkins’ only full college offer came from Division-II program Sioux Falls in South Dakota.

Five years later, Pipkins could be tasked with covering Philip Rivers’ blind side.

The 6-foot-7, 307-pound left tackle was drafted by the Chargers with the 91st pick in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft on Friday.

“I’m not sure that’s completely set in, honestly,” Pipkins said about protecting Rivers. “That’s just an unbelievable honor and something that I can learn a lot from. I’m excited to get there and just soak in the advice.”

It’s unlikely that Pipkins will get to protect Rivers in a meaningful game for the upcoming season with Russell Okung penciled in as the starting left tackle. But Chargers general manager Tom Telesco sees Pipkins as a project with plenty of upside.

“It’s hard to find tackles that are tall, long and have really good feet,” Telesco said of Pipkins. “He has a lot of traits that we can develop. It’s going to take him some time. We have a good group for him to learn from, too.”

The third-round selection came as a shock to many, even to Pipkins, who was expecting to go in the fourth round or later.

Pipkins made 22 starts the past two seasons at Sioux Falls and was named a Division-II All-American last season. The Apple Valley, Minnesota, native is the first player from Sioux Falls to attend the NFL Scouting Combine.

Telesco didn’t say at his news conference if he would consider using Pipkins as a right tackle for the upcoming season. Sam Tevi struggled for most of the 2018 season as the Chargers’ starting right tackle.

“He has left tackle ability that’s another reason why he was of interest to us,” Telesco said. “They’re hard to find.”

Pipkins said he molds his game after New Orleans Saints Pro Bowl left tackle Terron Armstead.

“I had a formal interview with the Chargers at the combine, but I didn’t have a visit with them or anything like that with them after that,” Pipkins said. “I thought I did well in my interview at the combine, but I didn’t hear anything back or anything else from them. I wasn’t really sure how I did, but apparently I made a good enough impression on them.”

Nasir Adderley Jersey

Most NFL Draft prospects received scholarship offers from big-time college football programs. but that was not the case for defensive back Nasir Adderley. Adderley received three Division-I offers, with only one from an FBS school. He wound up choosing Delaware, an FCS program, over Wake Forest and Towson.

For a while, Adderley was unsure if would receive any offers because of his poor academics early on in high school, but he rebounded with solid grades as a junior and senior, affording him the opportunity to become a Division-I student athlete.

“Delaware is a great school in terms of athletics and academics and it made me who I am today, and that’s a lesson I needed to learn and I’m grateful I learned that at an early age and was able to turn it around,” Adderley said during his press conference at the NFL Combine in March. “I was able to turn it around to make a change and get into a dream school as well.”

Four years later, Adderley has evolved into perhaps the top small-school pro prospect. NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah seems to think so, ranking Adderley as the 33rd-best prospect in the 2019 NFL Draft. Other pundits have pegged Adderley as a late first-round pick. If that’s the case, he’ll be just the second first-round selection in school history.

“I would say my biggest strength is my relentlessness and my work ethic,” Adderley said. “I’m the guy that’s always doing extra work off the field. I’m the guy putting on extra weight in the weight room. On the field, you won’t have to question my effort whether I’m at special teams, corner, safety. You won’t ever have to question my effort.”

The 6-foot, 200-pound Adderley has the size and speed to play both cornerback and safety in the NFL, and he proved that as a four-year starter at Delaware, totaling 226 tackles, 13 passes defensed and 11 interceptions and earning All-CAA honors three times. As a senior, the Associated Press named him as a second-team FCS All-American.

According to Kyle Crabbs of the Draft Network, Adderley is “the latest small-school prospect to serve as a reminder that high quality football players come from every level. Adderley has high-end coverage skills and tackling, making him a desirable candidate to start in a single high role on defense. His projection would pair best in a man scheme, where he is then able to focus on prowling for the football as compared to passing off coverages. Adderley has excellent anticipation and ball skills, can be an impact starter.”

Despite playing the majority of his career at free safety, Adderley is open to playing elsewhere in the secondary. He wants to become a three-down defensive back that teams can rely on in a variety of situations.

“I’m going to play wherever,” Adderley said. “I like to play in the post. I like to come down in the box. I like the blitz. I wasn’t asked to blitz often. That’s something I feel confident I can do as well.”

Despite suffering an ankle injury midway through his senior campaign, Adderley kept playing and delayed his rehab until after the Senior Bowl. He saw the Senior Bowl as a fantastic opportunity to showcase his skills against other top talents, and afterwards he felt that his performance there helped quiet any questions that may have arisen about him being a small-school prospect.

To help prepare for the draft, Adderley has been in constant talks with a family member who knows his fair share about manning the secondary in the NFL. Adderley is the cousin of Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive back Herb Adderley, so he’s been sure to learn as much as he can before he attempts to honor the family name at the sport’s highest level.

“He’s just extremely supportive of me and he obviously gives me pointers,” Adderley said. “One of the biggest parts that he helped me with was playing corner because I had never played corner before I got to Delaware. It was new for me and he helped me out tremendously in terms of my alignments and what to look at and know where my help is. So, that transition was a lot smoother because of him.”

Jerry Tillery Jersey

The Chargers had the latest pick in the first round they’ve had in about a decade going into Thursday night’s draft, but may have still managed to come out with a very decent pick based on the circumstance.

Let’s take a look at some of the options the Chargers had on the board. The lines on both sides of the ball, particularly the interior of the defensive line, were both issues last year. After cutting ties with Jahleel Addae after an incredibly inconsistent tenure and weird season, free safety became a need. Last but not least, corner is probably a position the Chargers would like to have some insurance in, after having some injury troubles last year with Trevor Williams.

What were some of the options going into the draft? My prediction was that Jerry Tillery would be off the board and they’d have to settle for Dexter Lawrence. Boy, was I wrong there (thanks Giants!).

I liked Lawrence, and still think he’ll be a decent pro, but he isn’t the athlete Tillery is. Tillery is a little worse than Lawrence at run stopping but is undeniably way better in pass defense. One issue the Chargers faced in the AFC divisional round vs. the Pats, is that the offensive line ate Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram up.

The interior line was too weak and undynamic to the point where the Patriots only had to worry about Bosa and Ingram on the ends. Tillery fixes that to some degree, and I believe he does it better than Lawrence all around.

Jawaan Taylor is another player fans wanted, as a boost to the offensive line. Knee concerns may have ultimately dipped his draft status a bit.

Some say the team should’ve taken Taylor over Tillery, but the reason I disagree is mostly the talent that Tillery is. Telesco has always been about taking the best player over what might be a need.

Pro Football Focus has also taken a liking to this pick by the Chargers. Telesco has always tended to lean toward the analytics and high draft value, and this shows that. Falling to 28th when he was ranked seventh based on value is a nice get, almost reminiscent of the James pick.

What do the Chargers need to do for the rest of the draft? I’d say offensive line and maybe a little cornerback depth are the places to attack on the third day of the selection process. But Tillery was a fantastic start to a draft that has the opportunity to fill positions of need for the Chargers while still getting value.

Virgil Green Jersey

A deep completion up the seam, followed by an emphatic scream.

A clutch reception while running over the middle for a first down.

A bullet throw over the middle hauled in on a perfectly run hitch route.

That’s just a handful of the plays Virgil Green has made lately in the passing game as he and Philip Rivers are beginning to find their groove. It’s also a vital development as the tight end and quarterback look to continue to build their rapport.

“(Our connection) is growing,” the quarterback said. “We’re working through how I like things, what I’m expecting on certain routes. He’s getting a feel for this offense. He was in it similarly with (Mike) McCoy (in Denver). Virgil is going to be just fine. He has played a lot of football and is a good football player. Those kind of things, you’ll see more of that and more plays like that.”

“I think it’s going great,” Green added. “Obviously Phil’s a very vocal guy, and he lets you know exactly what he wants. We talk a lot at meetings. Training camp is the reason why we put so much work in together, so we can make sure by the time we get to the regular season, we’re on point with those (little) things. I think we’ve done a good job of trying to be consistent.”

That’s absolutely been the case as the eight-year veteran has proven to be a trusty option for the future Hall of Fame quarterback.

Green was mostly regarded as one of the better blocking tight ends in the game. When the 6-5, 255-pounder signed a three-year deal back in March, he was adamant that he’s more than that.

So far, he’s backing up his words.

Still, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Green’s opportunities had been few and far between in Denver, as he totaled 71 receptions in 100 career games for 807 yards and four touchdowns. However, his role in the passing game expanded the past two seasons as he caught a combined 36 passes for 428 yards and two TDs.

Currently locked in as the number one tight end on the roster, odds are, he’ll have more balls thrown his way than ever before. And when he gets those chances, Green knows he’ll be in the best position possible thanks to the hard work he’s putting in with Rivers during the dog days of camp.

“It’s always good to have a quarterback that knows exactly what he wants,” Green explained. “Before the coach can even get to you, he’s already darting over to you to let you know how he wants things done. Having everyone on the same page like that is awesome…So I feel like it’s all coming together for us. Right now, I’m seeing and understanding exactly what it is Phil wants.”

Mike Pouncey Jersey

The Dolphins decided replacing center Mike Pouncey with Daniel Kilgore last year would be a virtual wash, that they would be getting a similar player who would be cheaper and less injury-prone.

It didn’t work out that way. While Pouncey played generally effectively in all 16 games for the Chargers, Kilgore tore his triceps in the fourth game, missing the rest of the season.

Kilgore was made available to reporters on Tuesday for the first time since last September and said he’s fully healthy but that the Dolphins have not conveyed to him whether he will be on the team (it appears very likely he will be) or if he’s part of the plan moving forward.

At 31, Kilgore is actually two years older than Pouncey. In terms of sticking on the roster, it helps that he’s a cheap, serviceable starter.

Kilgore has two years left on his contract, with a $2.2 million base salary in 2019 and a $3.0 million salary in 2020.

Pro Football Focus gave Kilgore a 52.9 grade for his four games last season, which would have ranked 31st of 38 centers if Kilgore had enough snaps to qualify. PFF gave Pouncey a 56.9 grade, which was 25th.

For all the concerns about Pouncey’s health, he has now played in all 16 games two consecutive seasons. And the Dolphins didn’t urgently need the cap room when they released him.

Kilgore said his injury was healed enough for him to have played in December if needed. But he couldn’t, because the Dolphins had placed him on injured reserve.

“I would say if I was needed at the end of last season, I probably could’ve fought through it, but no reason to risk it,” he said. “I feel good. No limitations now. Everything is full-go.”

Every AFC East team has been allocated one player as part of the expansion of the International Player Pathway program. They are ineligible to play in 2019.

Coach Brian Flores said of Neto: “ I talked to him yesterday and I said ‘This is a great time for you to be here.’ He’ll be working hand placement and footwork. I’m excited to have him. He’s a good-looking young kid. He seems like he’s eager to learn, he’s eager to put in a lot of effort and we’ll try to maximize his potential, which I think there is something there.”

Isaac Rochell Jersey

A year and a half had passed since Isaac Rochell last roamed the hallways at the University of Notre Dame. The defensive end returned to his alma mater to film an episode of “Backstage: Chargers,” a behind-the-scenes TV series of the team.

Rochell snapped a few photos of his visit last month before putting the lens cap back on his Canon camera.

“I didn’t overdo it,” said Rochell, a keen photographer. “I had such a limited amount of time, I kind of just wanted to engage and be present. The Chargers brought me out there and I wanted to give them my absolute undivided attention.”

Rochell gave his commitment to the Chargers on and off the field after they took a chance on him in the seventh round (the 225th pick) of the 2017 NFL draft.

Rochell, 23, repaid the Chargers by working his way up from the practice squad during his rookie season to becoming a vital rotational player on the defensive line. In 2018, his second season, Rochell recorded 29 combined tackles, five sacks, seven QB hits, and filled in admirably while star defensive end Joey Bosa was sidelined for nine games with a foot injury.

For Year 3, Rochell is aiming to help the Chargers in other ways besides football. Rochell, who was an exclusive-rights free agent, signed a one-year, $645,000 tendered deal earlier this month to remain with the Chargers.

“I’m excited and I couldn’t be anymore pleased with the way (coach) Anthony Lynn, (general manager) Tom Telesco, (defensive coordinator) Gus Bradley and (defensive line coach) Giff Smith have helped me with my development,” Rochell said. “I’m super fortunate to be a part of this organization. I have unreal teammates and I really can’t say enough good things about my experience in the NFL and with the Chargers.”

The Chargers get back more than a productive defensive end. They retain a player looking to help his teammates mentally. And it doesn’t stop in the locker room – the inventive 6-foot-4 Rochell is hoping to make a difference for anyone with a social media account.

For many, the day starts and ends with their eyes glued to the phone screen as their thumb scrolls through a social media app. Social media has become a common and useful tool, but it can also be counterproductive. Rochell found himself starting most days perusing his social media feeds, causing a delay on the day’s tasks.

“I’m one of those people,” Rochell admitted. “I feel like we all are.”

Rochell nearly deleted his social media accounts before realizing the benefits that come with being an active user.

“I think social media is an unreal platform,” Rochell said. “Now everybody has an opportunity to brand themselves. Everybody has an opportunity to have influence, but with that comes byproducts, which are overindulging use.”

Before the 2018 season, Rochell committed to taking Saturdays off from using social media. It allowed his mind to refresh the day before Sunday’s game, while also furthering his passion for photography.

With the extra time, Rochell spent his Saturdays with family, friends, teammates, and took many pictures of their outdoor activities across Southern California. Rochell dedicated an Instagram profile to his photography, which can be found @isaacrochellphoto.

Many have taken notice of Rochell’s street photography. He was invited by junior welterweight champion Maurice Hooker to take pictures of his media workout last month. Last year, Rochell shadowed a Los Angeles Galaxy team photographer to shoot a soccer match at StubHub Center, now known as Dignity Health Sports Park.

Darius Philon Jersey

The Cardinals may be using fewer defensive linemen as they switch back to a 3-4 scheme, but they still needed to add at the position and did so with a potentially underrated move Thursday.

The team signed young free-agent defensive lineman Darius Philon to a two-year deal with a reported $4 million signing bonus and a $1 million salary for 2019. Philon, who became a full-time starter for the first time in his four NFL seasons in 2018, had 4 sacks for the Los Angeles Chargers playing defensive tackle.

“I got a call from my agent telling me, ‘Arizona wants to bring you aboard,’ and I’m happy to be aboard,” Philon said. “I want everybody to know that. This is where I’m going to be and this is what we’re going to work on, making the Cardinals better.”

Tight end Ricky Seals-Jones, who had been extended a tender offer as an exclusive rights free agent, also signed his contract.

At 6-foot-1 and 300 pounds, Philon can play all along the three position on the defensive line. He praised what defensive coordinator Vance Joseph can do for a defense, and said it was Joseph – who saw Philon twice a year when Joseph was coaching in Denver – who saw Philon as a fit.

“My style of play, I’m more of a penetrating defensive tackle,” Philon said. “Basically be a wrecking crew.”

A sixth-round pick out of Arkansas in 2015, Philon has 9½ sacks in his career over 54 games, adding 80 total tackles and two forced fumbles.

The Cardinals only had five defensive linemen on the roster prior to the Philon signing – starter Corey Peters, Robert Nkemdiche (who is coming off an ACL tear and whose status is unknown), Cameron Malveaux, Pasoni Tasini and Vincent Valentine.

The draft also has an abundance of quality defensive linemen available in April.

Austin Ekeler Jersey

Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler watches a lot of YouTube.

“I subscribe to six or seven channels and find myself watching it instead of TV or movies,” said the 23-year-old, who signed with the Chargers as an undrafted free agent in 2017. “It’s a younger generation thing, YouTube is a big platform, and there’s a lot of good content to figure out how to do anything.”

Ekeler said he’s used YouTube to do everything from learn how to change a tire to educate himself about personal finance and the stock market. He’d also watched people work out. A self-described gym rat, occasionally recorded his own workouts, too, in an effort to watch himself improve and learn.

Eventually, something clicked. Why can’t I do that? Now, Ekeler is devoting his offseason to building his brand via making a YouTube channel out of his workout routines.

“It was a no-brainer,” he said. “I just started posting them for fun, I’m not trying to make money, it’s just something for me.”

That doesn’t mean he can’t try to draw an audience, though. The channel isn’t large by any means and boasted fewer than 300 subscribers prior to being shared last week by the NFL’s Instagram account. For now, Ekeler says, that’s a start.

“It’s building a brand,” he added, before noting he may try to actively grow the site down the road if he believes it provides revenue potential. “It’s amazing, people can get behind the scenes and find out who you are and not just playing on Sundays and in interviews.”

According to David Artzi, founder of DA Athlete Marketing, which handles Ekeler’s marketing efforts, it’s a strategy in line with where brand-building is going in a time when younger generations and their shifting consumer habits begin to play a greater role in an athlete’s fanbase. Artzi believes it’s more important than ever for athletes to establish themselves as their own brand and connect with fans on a more personal level if they aspire to grow off-the-field income sources.

For Ekeler, perhaps the easiest part is that it’s not forced. YouTube was an obvious extension of his own consumer habits, as well as a natural platform considering he was already recording his workouts and occasionally posting them to Instagram. He believes the organic nature of the content plays a major role in his desire to create it.

“YouTube is something you can’t force,” Ekeler said. “It has to be something you can put up with. It’s like if a rock star writes a song — they better like it because they’ll be playing it for 20 years.

“You can’t be dreading the content.”

That authenticity can also be a valuable audience growth tool when it does come time to grow the product. Gen Z and younger audiences are more likely to relate to athletes on a personal level as well as trust the more implicitly. To that end, they desire a more genuine connection to brand incorporation, too.

Artzi believes a natural next step would be to leverage Ekeler’s passion by organically including a brand within future videos.

It’s just one way to grow the channel, which Ekeler expects to continue into next offseason. Another could be to hire a video editor, which would both save himself time as well as facilitate a more consistent style between episodes. Stretching the channel beyond workout videos also isn’t out of the question, perhaps through a vlog to further allow fans into his life.

No matter the trajectory, though, don’t expect Ekeler to stop using YouTube in his daily life any time soon. After all, flat tires don’t fix themselves.

Tyrod Taylor Jersey

But one move that seemed to catch almost everyone off guard was the signing of quarterback Tyrod Taylor. The former Buffalo Bills starting quarterback was signed to a two-year deal.

Depending on who you talk to, this was either a great move by Telesco or one that made absolutely no sense. There seems to be no gray area.

In Taylor, the Chargers get one of the premiere backup quarterbacks in the league. As stated, he is a former starting quarterback and has 61 career games under his belt, with 45 starts. He is able to make plays with his arm and his feet and does a good job protecting the ball.

But that’s the problem. When was the last time Rivers went down? The answer would be never. He hasn’t missed a start since he took over as the team’s starting quarterback in 2006. So why sign a backup that you may never need?

The signing of Taylor pretty much eliminates the talk of the team searching for Rivers’ successor in the draft, an annual discussion. Is there any chance that Telesco sees Taylor as that successor?

There are many moving parts here, but Taylor signed with the team for a reason when he could have gone somewhere like Miami, for instance, and been a starter again. But something drew him to the sunny skies of Los Angeles.

Perhaps that was his familiarity with Anthony Lynn, his former offensive coordinator in Buffalo. Or maybe Telesco sees past the two-year contract he signed. Rivers will most likely play both of those years, but what happens after that?

Taylor will turn 30 years old in August, but just looking at things for a hypothetical standpoint, he could take over for the Chargers if Rivers only plays for two more years. That’s really the only way this deal makes any sense, at least for him, unless he enjoys sitting on the bench.

So which is it? A great signing or a move that the team could have done without? It seems there’s a very thin line.