Last Monday, the Colts signed defensive end JD Skolnitsky to a one year contract. Skolnitsky played his college ball at James Madison University, where he appeared in 34 games with 24 starts. For his career, he totaled 120 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, five passes defended, and one blocked kick.
He was actually going to suit up for the Dukes as a fifth-year senior for the 2009 college season, but was declared ineligible after testing positive for a banned substance shortly after the end of the 2008 season. The fact that his ineligibility was announced so early, though, gave him the ability to declare for the 2009 NFL draft.
Aside from possible character issues stemming from his suspension, Skolnitsky is thin for his height to play the position — at 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds, he looks more like a point guard than an end — and did not play for a Division I FBS powerhouse team and was not selected in last year's draft.
He was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Redskins — he was a local product, born and raised in Virginia and James Madison is also located in that Commonwealth — and spent the 2009 season on their practice squad. He was signed to a future contract by Washington on Jan. 5, but was subsequently released on 3/4/10 before clearing waivers and being awarded to the Indianapolis Colts.
He's the ideal size to play end in the Cover 2, but he doesn't have the explosive first step or top end speed of Dwight Freeney or Robert Mathis, though few do. He's fast enough to succeed at the NFL level, though, so he could be a valuable backup in the mold of Josh Thomas, but still be more reliable and efficient than Marcus Howard or Curtis Johnson.
The intriguing aspect of Skolnitsky is his build. He's built like a point guard at the moment and could easily add 15 pounds by hitting the weight room and the buffet line with some regularity. That would put him at 270 pounds without having an adverse effect on his speed, which would put him in the same versatile position as Keyunta Dawson or the departed Raheem Brock. In passing situations, the Colts could line him up at tackle and have another capable pass rusher to pursue the quarterback. When Freeney or Mathis need a breather, he could step in at end. If he's capable and coachable, he could be another moving part in a defensive line rotation that will certainly miss Brock's presence next season.
If they haven't done so already, Indianapolis could work details into his contract similar to the language of Ed Johnson's contract. If he runs afoul of the law, the Colts can and will release him. All indications are that he is not a player that has a history filled with character concerns, he just has the one big one. As long as Indianapolis handles him the same way they handled Johnson, they should be fine and he should be fine.
The issue with Skolnitsky is that he doesn't have a body of work that he can be judged upon. He had some experience and some production at James Madison, but not the kind of experience and production from which to draw a sufficient evaluation of his abilities.
Fortunately for the Colts, they have an entire offseason of mini-camps, OTAs, and training camp for John Teerlinck to teach him the defense and for him to respond. At his salary level, he presents a very small risk for Indianapolis, but does have the potential for the Colts to reap fairly considerable rewards.
What happens with Skolnitsky at this point is up to him. Indianapolis has an obvious need at the position and a roster spot to fill since they cut ties with Brock, so if Skolnitsky does not fill that void, it is on him. The Colts are going to have open competition for spots in the defensive line rotation, and he can get himself into the mix as well as anyone.
He has practice squad eligibility as well, so he could develop into a project for future consideration, or at the very least someone that they can call up to the 53-man roster should anyone go down with an injury.
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