Fans and media often speak of Notre Dame's defense as a Base 3-4. It's in reality multiple, with more than 50 percent of the 2012 snaps showing a four-down alignment. Key to this versatility is the Cat linebacker, presently occupied by star pass rusher Prince Shembo and oft-used backup, Ishaq Williams.
At nearly 6'4" and 230 pounds, four-star Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey, N.J.) prospect Alquadin Muhammad seems an ideal candidate for initial evaluation at a Cat position that will lose three-year starter Prince Shembo following the 2013 season.
Notre Dame has other prospects for the Cat, but only Muhammad and current freshman Romeo Okwara have the young frames capable of growing into formidable defensive ends as well. The addition of the former would solidify the position's two-deep for three years and the necessary recruitment of such athletes could then skip the 2014 cycle.
Muhammad ranks behind previously reviewed nose guard Eddie Vanderdoes as my second-most important prospect remaining on Notre Dame's recruiting board. The class's only de-committed pledge to date, 6'5" "Big Skill" athlete Danny Mattingly, was pegged as a Cat prospect, one that could have grown into a defensive end role as well.
Below is a look at the Cat position -- or for the purposes of this column, the team's defensive ends in 4-3 fronts.
2013 Cat (OLB/DE): Prince Shembo (1), Ishaq Williams (2), Anthony Rabasa (3). A likely addition is the 6'4" 240-pound Okwara, who tutored most of 2013 at Dog (Drop) linebacker behind Danny Spond and Ben Councell. Incoming five-star outside 'backer Jaylon Smith could play the Cat as well, though his athleticism suggests playing in space at the Dog as the logical alternative.
Projected 2014 Cat (OLB/DE): Williams, Rabasa, and Okwara, with the latter pair eligible through 2015. Rabasa redshirted in 2011 and played sparingly in 2012, that playing time escalating a bit in November. Okwara earned a monogram this fall, primarily as a true freshman though he did force a fumble late vs. Oklahoma from a pass-rushing end position.
Growth to a True Defensive End: Muhammad would need at least 40 pounds to fulfill the duties of a 3-4 defensive end in Bob Diaco's defense. Considering Kapron Lewis-Moore added 80, and Kona Schwenke a solid 70 during their time in South Bend, it's hardly out of the question for Muhammad's future.
Final ThoughtsMuhammad could be a quick-twitch terror at defensive end should he comfortably put on the necessary weight over the next two-and-a-half calendar years (in time for his sophomore season). Okwara shined in brief media viewings during August camp, though head coach Brian Kelly later noted the team's youngest player (he turned 17 in July) took awhile to assimilate to the speed of college football Saturdays.
With Danny Spond (1), Ben Councell (3), and it is presumed, 5-star 'backer Jaylon Smith (4) occupying the Dog position next season, it seems unlikely Okwara wouldn't begin working as a 4-3 defensive end or Cat 'backer, if he hasn't already, as there was no need for Okwara to remain in the role once Spond returned to the fold in mid-September.