The only missing element from Kelly's three-pronged recruiting approach to date is the "Big Skill" athlete, and Bishop Hartley (Columbus, Ohio) product and TE/DE/OLB prospect Jacob Matuska is the first of likely many to sign from that lot as the Irish begin to shape their 2013 recruiting class.
"That's what you'll start to see now, those Big Skill players that have the ability to play on either side of the ball," Kelly said at his 2012 signing day press conference. "We needed to take care of the needs within the program in this second recruiting class, and I think we all heard last year me talking about the ‘back end' and the Skill players, and we think we have done that.
"Next year's class will have that versatility element and it will be centered around that Big Skill."
After gaining 25 pounds since his sophomore season and at present 6'4" 245 pounds, Matuska is Scout.com's #15-ranked tight end prospect for 2013.
Expect 10-15 more pounds and a move to the defensive side of scrimmage for Kelly & Co. when he arrives in two summers from now.
Regardless, below is a look at the projected depth charts for 2013 and where Matuska might fit at the outset.
2013 Outside Linebacker Depth ChartAll players are listed in terms of their class for 2013, not the upcoming season:
- Senior Prince Shembo: Cat? Dog? DE? Irrelevant for this write-up as Shembo will play on the edge in both 2012 and 2013.
- Senior Danny Spond: Spond's greatest contribution to date has been on special teams but he'll compete at what should be a wide open Dog (Drop) linebacker position this spring.
- Junior Troy Niklas: Rumors of him moving to tight end have hit Irish message boards. I'd like to see him grow into a cat-quick defensive end and nickel defensive tackle. He played Dog linebacker (technically) last season – the least likely career destination for the kid dubbed "Hercules" by teammate Manti Te'o.
- Junior Ishaq Williams: Played sparingly as a Cat linebacker last season and there have been rumors he'll get a look at Dog in the spring. Regardless, by his junior season of 2013, Williams should be a mainstay in the Irish defensive front.
- Junior Ben Councell: Sat out last year as a true freshman and is thus the only player on this list (with the possible exception of incoming Okwara, below) to have a 5th-year of eligibility at his disposal. Rangy athlete will compete at Dog this spring.
- Sophomore Romeo Okwara: The only Big Skill recruit among the 2012 class, Okwara should begin his career as a Cat linebacker next fall.
Matuska's skill set seems to fit nicely at either the Cat or the Dog, though I base that opinion on a prospect that's yet to finish growing as second semester junior in high school.
At present, I've slotted the purported TE/DE as an OLB in waiting for Bob Diaco's defense.
2013 Defensive End Depth ChartMatuska's skill set could certainly work on the edge of a 4-3 base defense but he'd need ample weight and strength gains to hold the fort in the team's 3-4 fronts (used approximately 50 percent of the time over the last two seasons).
- Senior Kona Schwenke: Formerly 227 pounds (NSD 2010), Schwenke has grown into more of an interior prospect who'll likely tip the scales at 300 pounds this spring.
- Junior Aaron Lynch: The only true defensive end among the next three listed, Lynch was the best true freshman defensive lineman at the program since Anthony Weaver in 1998. (Weaver was a first round selection in the 2002 NFL Draft.)
- Junior Stephon Tuitt: Probably too big to be considered a true defensive end as well, Tuitt can play 3-4, 4-3 DT, or 3-4 nose guard in the coming years, none of which directly affects incoming Big Skill athletes such as Matuska.
- Junior Chase Hounshell: I'd expect another 20 pounds (so the 275 range) for Hounshell between the end of the Champs Sports Bowl and the beginning of August camp, 2013.
It seems unlikely Matuska will be a 3-4 defensive end at the college level, though his prospects for the position on the edge of a four-man front are admittedly much higher.
Though I have sophomore-to-be Troy Niklas listed as an outside linebacker, I believe his future (2013-14) is on the defensive line as well.
2013 Tight End Depth ChartTwo of the four listed below are likely to conclude their college careers after 2012, leaving the door – and depth chart – open for Matuska to play a pivotal practice role, and likely travel with the squad/join the special teams, as a rookie in 2013.
- Potential 5th-year Senior Tyler Eifert: Only an injury or unforeseen sub par season will keep the first team All-America selection in South Bend for a fifth season.
- Potential 5th-year Senior Jake Golic: Oft-injured and not yet a player from scrimmage or special teams, Golic will need to stay healthy and likely win a starters role on multiple special teams to earn a fifth year in the program.
- Senior Alex Welch: With three seasons of eligibility remaining entering the upcoming season, the Welch story remains in its infancy. Its assumed he and Koyack (below) will battle for snaps and playing time this year and into the future.
- Junior Ben Koyack: Enters his sophomore season as a dark horse candidate to emerge as a part-time starter next fall (alongside Eifert in two tight end sets). Whether his future star is any brighter than Welch's is not known but fans have embraced the promising target after he earned a monogram as a true freshman last fall.
Welch and Koyack will have a combined four seasons of eligibility remaining (2/2) when Matuska hits campus. A third tight end is a definite need, but it doesn't have to be him.
For an early story on Matuska, one fitting considering his recruitment and verbal commitment, click here.