Click here for a look at the Power Profile and the staff’s progress in the current cycle.
Click here for an examination of the Skill Profile and the 2013 class’s needs, both met and yet to be filled.
“Big Skill is profiling out – If I could take 20 guys that were tough gentlemen, that fit the profile at Notre Dame academically; were 6’4” 215 or 220 pounds, you’d never be able to track who’s playing where. Some play defensive end, some play tight end; some are safeties. That’s ‘Big Skill.’”
– Irish head coach Brian Kelly explaining the third profile of his unique scouting, recruitment, and development method
In other words, athletes.
And athletes of that caliber that want to attend, can qualify to attend, or are eventual choose to attend Notre Dame appear to be in short supply. A true “Big Skill” athlete thrives in the modern game; one that demands lateral movement and pass coverage skills at every back seven position on the field.
Past editions in South Bend would be stars such as Michael Stonebreaker (1990), Kory Minor (1998), and Courtney Watson (2003); a solid starter such as Derek Curry (2004), as well as a quiet collegian turned NFL’er such as Jerome Collins (2004).
Myriad current examples are available if you do a Google search for “Alabama’s roster.”
Notre Dame’s ideal Big Skill athlete at present is likely sophomore tight end and former outside linebacker, Troy Niklas.
Big Skill in Process
The bulk of Notre Dame’s inside linebackers discussed below are just that: died-in-the-wool inside ‘backers. Relying on competitive, tough, gritty instinctive hitters with limited foot speed can be both beneficial (Wes Pritchett, Lyron Cobbins, Brandon Hoyte come to mind) and a death knell (facing modern tight ends and spread sets).
(2) 2013 Inside Linebackers: Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox – both are expected to apply and be asked back as 5th-year seniors. Neither is a true Big Skill athlete, but a linebacker unit needs interior power too.
(2) 2014 Inside Linebackers: Justin Utupo and Kendall Moore – neither has secured consideration for a 5th-year of eligibility for 2014, though Moore will get his chance next spring in a likely head-to-head battle with Jarrett Grace.
(2) 2015 Inside Linebackers: Jarrett Grace and Anthony Rabasa – Both will make their collegiate debuts this fall.
(0) 2016 Inside Linebacker pledges: None signed in the 2012 recruiting cycle and none to date among the 12 verbal pledges for 2013.
Of those listed above, Rabasa has the best chance to bounce outside if necessary, potentially to a Cat linebacker role.
(2) 2013 Outside Linebackers: Prince Shembo and Danny Spond – Spond’s a true Big Skill athlete, but he also might be a man without a position. Shembo reminds me of a classic 4-3 “tweener” LB/DE from the 90s…he’s at his best rushing the passer as a cat-quick defensive end.
(1) 2014 Outside Linebacker: Ishaq Williams – Speaking of Cat Quick…Williams enters his sophomore season as one of the most important up-and-coming defenders on the Irish roster.
(1) 2015 Outside Linebacker: Ben Councell – Like classmates Grace and Rabasa, will make his field debut this fall. Referred to as “sudden” by Kelly, Councell is battling Spond for a starting role at Dog/Drop linebacker.
(1) 2015-16 Outside Linebacker: Romeo Okwara – Will likely preserve a season of eligibility next fall if both Shembo and Williams can stay in good health for the season’s first eight games.
(1) 2016-17 Outside Linebacker pledge: *Jacob Matuska – also could play tight end; potentially grow into a defensive end.
The position and its combatants serve as much better examples of the Big Skill athlete Kelly craves. Development and production becomes paramount after hitting campus.
(2) 2013 Tight Ends: Tyler Eifert, Jake Golic – Neither are expected back for a 5th season.
(3) 2014 Tight Ends: Alex Welch, Ben Koyack and Troy Niklas – The squad is set at tight end for the foreseeable future thanks to this trio and the incoming Mike Heuerman.
(0) 2015 Tight Ends: None signed among the 2012 recruiting class
(1) 2016-17 Tight End: *Jacob Matuska and Mike Heuerman
As noted above, Matuska could also play OLB/DE. My official projection for Matuska as an incoming freshman is OLB as tight end seems in capable hands.
(1) 2013 Safeties: Austin Collinsworth
(0) 2014 Safeties: None
(3) 2015 Safeties: Matthias Farley, Eilar Hardy, and Chris Badger. Badger is a 2010 early enrollee who has recently returned from a two-year religious mission in Ecuador and is eligible for four more seasons. Farley and Hardy will make their field debuts this fall. The former toiled as a slot receiver on the Scout Team in 2011 while the latter lost his season to a torn ACL last August.
(4) 2015-16 Safeties: John Turner, Nick Baratti, C.J. Prosise, and Elijah Shumate. The eligibility hyphen is pending the 2012 playing status of each. For argument’s sake, expect at least two of the latter three freshmen to earn monograms on special teams and/or defense this fall.
Incoming 2016-17 Safeties: None at present. Reggie Kinlaw is a 6’2” 180 pound athlete currently projected at cornerback with the potential to be a college free safety. So too could the 6’1” 185-pound Devin Butler though he’s a good bet to remain on the perimeter.
Of the group above, Shumate and Baratti immediately come to mind as Big Skill athletes that could compete at the hybrid Dog/nickel role as defensive coordinator Bob Diaco’s defense evolves into a quicker group along the back seven.
Big Skill Needs: 2013
I suggested in Parts I and II that three Power recruits (all defensive linemen) and a minimum of three Skill athletes (mandatory WR, CB, plus either another WR/CB or elite RB) will be added before the 2013 class closes.
The safe estimate is that Kelly & Co. can bring in nine more scholarship athletes, giving them 21 in the 2013 haul. Figure 10 as the true end goal, because there’s no chance a transfer won’t occur between today and National Signing Day 2013.
Therefore, I believe the staff’s goal is to land four Big Skill profile athletes to help round out the solid class built to date:
Inside Linebackers: No current pledges, and I argue none are mandatory because a 2014 veteran-laden depth chart that includes Grace, Rabasa, Moore, Utupo, and purportedly solid walk-on (recruited by several programs) Joe Schmidt could likely hold down the fort. Still, one pledge with promise would be a welcomed addition while two in ’13 would secure the position for the near future.
Outside Linebackers: Matuska is the only current pledge and I believe three OLB/Big Skill players in that mold is the target number. Two would suffice and one would leave the staff scrambling to overload at the position for the 2014 class.
Tight End: Heuerman and possibly Matuska are already on board for the position. No more are necessary and none are likely to be recruited.
Safety: No pledges at present; none mandatory, but one gem would be ideal, especially if he’s an athlete similar to Jamoris Slaughter who could play both corner and safety, or even grow into an undersized, lethal nickel linebacker over his 4-5 seasons. The program has seven safeties on board through 2015…it’s the least essential position to add “bodies” on the roster.
Ideally, Kelly and his staff will land four more Big Skill athletes (plus three Power and three Skill as mentioned previously).
Removing the obvious desire for a top tier safety from the equation, the best case scenario would be two that project to OLB, one to ILB, and one as a hybrid S/OLB.
Next in the series: A concluding column on who could best fill out the 2013 recruiting class among the 9-10 spots available for the Power, Skill, and Big Skill profiles.