The pledge of 6'5" 275-pound defensive end Matt Dickerson was the first of two remaining crucial pieces to complete Notre Dame's 2014 defensive line haul.
Recent Notre Dame
defensive pledges fit well the preferred profile of fourth-year Irish head man Brian Kelly. Chesterfield, Missouri-product Jonathan Bonner
can play on the edge or put his hand down -- he'll be able to develop at either Cat linebacker, or with added weight and strength, defensive end. Ditto Colony High School (Colony, Texas) OLB/DE/TE Grant Blankenship
, who at 6'5" 235 pounds, has the frame to grow into a defensive end role, but the range to remain a perimeter competitor as well.
Four-star linebacker Richard Yeargin, III has position flexibility too, capable of playing both inside (Will), outside (Cat) and potentially the vexing field-side linebacker (Dog) position.
But Kelly's newest addition, 6'5" 275-pound defensive end Matt Dickerson has an obvious future home -- he's a defensive lineman, and tailor-made for defensive coordinator Bob Diaco's multiple fronts scheme.
I noticed there was talk of Dickerson potentially playing the hybrid OLB/DE role of the Cat linebacker -- that's not happening at his size. At 17 years old and already 275 pounds, consider Dickerson a defensive end (in the 3-4) \an interior player (in 4-3 fronts), and potentially a nose guard as he fills out with collegiate weight and strength.
At present, his situation is similar to current Irish front-liners such as Tony Springmann, Stephon Tuitt, and Sheldon Day, each of whom shifts inside when necessary, but are primarily asked to control two gaps as 3-4 defensive ends, flanked by 245-255 pound outside linebackers.
The Irish have plenty of the latter, and including the pledge of Dickerson, they need at least one more of the former to reach the minimum mandatory for the 2014 haul.
Below is a look at Notre Dame's 2014 defensive ends and interior defensive linemen when Matt Dickerson hits campus next summer:
Senior defensive end Stephon Tuitt (2014): Tuitt is projected as a first-round draft pick at season's end but is eligible through 2014.
Senior defensive end/tackle Tony Springmann (2015): An absolute lock to be offered and accept a fifth year in 2015, Springmann's ascent this fall and over the next calendar year will be a key storyline up front.
Senior defensive end/tackle Chase Hounshell (2015-16): At a career crossroads due to a trio of shoulder surgeries, Hounshell could actually play through 2016 -- a rare sixth-year player at the University -- should he recover and avoid an expected medical scholarship situation entering next August. Hounshell played as a true freshman in 2011, missed 2012 with injury, will do the same in 2013, and could thus play as a senior in 2014, a 5th-year in 2015, and a 6th-year in 2016.
Junior defensive end/tackle Sheldon Day (2015): One of the three best underclassmen on the 2013 Irish, Day is adept as a 3-4 defensive end and shifting inside in the oft-used 4-3 fronts.
Sophomores/Redshirt-freshmen Isaac Rochell and Jacob Matuska (2016-17): Bulked up from 265 on national signing day to 280 at present, Rochell appears headed for an initial (and likely, permanent) evaluation at defensive end. Matuska, weighing in recently at 275 pounds, the 6'5" Matuska will likely be trained for the interior due to a dearth of future competitors inside.
Fellow 2014 pledges and incoming freshmen Jay Hayes, Andrew Trumbetti, and, potentially, Grant Blankenship (2017-18): Hayes and Trumbetti are no-doubters for D-Line duty; Blankenship needs strength and weight, but it should happen for the rangy athlete by the time he'd be asked to produce in 2015. (I'll have more on Blankenship and his true fit -- Big Skill -- in a later column.)
Note: Current senior Louis Nix has a 5th-season of eligibility for 2014 should he choose to forgo the draft (or suffer an injury this fall). Nix's classmate Justin Utupo, now a defensive end after three seasons on the perimeter and/or at inside linebacker, could also return.
2013 preferred freshman walk-on Marquis Dickerson is a player that could aid the varsity depth as his career progresses, but 2014 would be far too early to project for the lightly recruited 280-pounder.
Early enrollment would be of great benefit for Dickerson, who with six extra months of guidance from the staff and strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo, could find a way to help from the outset. At minimum his career arc would be ahead of the pace of predecessors such as Tony Springmann, a redshirt-freshman in 2012, and Jarron Jones, a redshirt-freshman this fall.
Dickerson told Irisheyes.com's Anna Hickey that the Irish coaches asked him not to add to his 275-pound frame this season -- they'll take care of weight and strength gains upon his arrival, and expediting those gains next winter seems prudent.
Notre Dame's defensive line will be in good shape next season should Tuitt choose to remain for his senior year. If the monster end departs for NFL riches, all bets are off, and a heavy rotation will be necessary along the entire front.
Like most incoming freshmen linemen, Dickerson's ideal first season of competition would be his second at the program (2015). An extra winter and spring with the program could accelerate that pace.
Note: For previous "Recruit Fit" columns covering Notre Dame's 2014 class, click the links below:
The First Five Fit -- a look at pledges Greer Martini, Justin Brent, Jimmy Byrne, Jay Hayes, and Andrew Trumbetti.
Quenton Nelson (Nelson's review examines the position's evolution during the Kelly era as well.)