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Irish A-to-Z: Jacob Matuska

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After being buried on the defensive line depth chart, Jacob Matuska spent the spring transitioning to tight end, hopeful that he can replicate the impact fellow defensive lineman Chase Hounshell had in his transition across the line of scrimmage. There’s reason for optimism. Matuska was an All-State performer at the position in his high school days. He’s also a 275-pounder who won’t look out of place lined up next to an offensive tackle.

Finding a role with Tyler Luatua back on the roster might be tough. But Luatua’s inconsistency last season will make this an open battle. While 15 practices aren’t enough to master a spot, expect a training camp battle for specialty snaps in an Irish offense that should want to pound the football.

 

JACOB MATUSKA
6’4.5″, 275 lbs.
Senior, No. 89, TE

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Recruited to play 3-4 defensive end, Matuska committed to Notre Dame early on, a three-star prospect with offers from Michigan, Nebraska and Oklahoma. Ohio State didn’t offer, but he profiled quite nicely as a big skill and power recruit, with Brian Kelly noting his positional versatility on Signing Day.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2013): Did not see action.

Sophomore Season (2014): Played in seven games, starting his first against USC. Saw the majority of his snaps in the season’s final three games, forced into action after injuries to Sheldon Day, Jarron Jones and Daniel Cage. Had five tackles against Louisville including a sack. Had six total tackles on the season.

Junior Season (2015): Made one appearance, making a single tackle against UMass.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

Pretty close, though I didn’t see a single appearance in the cards.

Matuska still feels like an emergency option to me, though he’ll hardly be as green as the guy we saw learning on the fly last season. Give him credit for a nice performance against Louisville, though a stinger in his shoulder robbed him of performing better moving forward, not exactly great luck considering he was still drinking from the fire hydrant.

But if you’re looking for a datapoint that shows how far this program has come since the Weis era, Matuska certainly can be one. Notre Dame didn’t have 295-pound defensive tackles on their third string back then, they were starting.

That doesn’t look like a reality for Matuska unless things go haywire. And even then, he’ll have to compete with Jerry Tillery, Jay Hayes, Daniel Cage and Peter Mokwuah to get on the field.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

The move to tight end pretty much solidified the belief that Matuska wasn’t going to crack the two-deep on a defensive line that is unproven but talented. So after watching Chase Hounshell find a niche on last year’s team, the fact that Matuska gets a shot to do the same thing—after being a very accomplished high school tight end—means there’s hope for some more position change magic for Brian Kelly.

That said, the ceiling for success should be modest. With Tyler Luatua’s return and the fact that most of the opportunities will be doing the dirty work, don’t expect to see Matuska’s conversion be more than some work in the trenches or in garbage time.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Pegging Matuska’s snap count to what Hounshell did last year might be a solid barometer. Of course, that required a season-ending injury to Durham Smythe and players like Nic Weishar and Alizé Jones taking their first snaps as college football players.

Matuska isn’t the only veteran in a new job. Swapping John Montelus to the defensive line and Matuska to the offense are attempts to find roles for big, strong veteran players on a team that’s young. I think Matuska has a better chance of finding a role than Montelus, but expecting more than specialty work might be asking too much.

This gives Matuska the best chance for a fifth year at Notre Dame, something that didn’t seem possible as a defensive lineman. Add in the fact that he was a quick study this spring and it’s a nice second life for the Ohio native.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston
Mark Harrell
Daelin Hayes
Jay Hayes
Tristen Hoge
Corey Holmes
Torii Hunter Jr.
Alizé Jones
Jamir Jones
Jarron Jones
Jonathan Jones
Tony Jones Jr.
Khalid Kareem
DeShone Kizer
Julian Love
Tyler Luatua
Cole Luke
Greer Martini

Irish A-to-Z: Greer Martini

Navy fullback Chris Swain (37) tries to recover his fumble as Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith (9) and linebacker Greer Martini (48) go after the ball during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Jeff Haynes)
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Below the radar since his days as a recruit, Greer Martini seems poised to seize an opportunity in a linebacking corps filled with unknowns. Highly productive in his limited opportunities—mostly as an option specialist—Martini’s capable of much more, including contributing at all three positions in Brian VanGorder’s system.

He’ll need to be healthy, first. One of many that spent spring on the mend (Martini had offseason shoulder surgery), he’ll challenge senior James Onwualu for snaps at the Sam linebacker job and could also win the starting role as Jaylon Smith’s replacement.

 

GREER MARTINI
6’2.5″, 245 lbs.
Junior, No. 48, LB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

An out of the blue commitment before his junior season, Martini was an unranked prospect at the time of his commitment, though he had offers from Maryland, NC State and Virginia Tech. He ended up a three-star recruit, but was unranked nationally by any of the major recruiting services.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Played in all 13 games, starting against Navy and USC. One of five true freshmen to notch at least 12 tackles. Had 26 tackles, two TFLs and a sack against Louisville. A season-high nine tackles against Navy.

Sophomore Season (2015): Played in all 13 games, starting against Georgia Tech, Navy, Boston College and Stanford. Made 35 tackles, including 2.5 TFLs and one sack. Was at his best against option opponents Georgia Tech and Navy.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

Pretty spot on.

Expect to see Martini do more of the little things for the Irish in 2015. He very quickly established himself as a trusted freshman. He was the first rookie to see the field in his class. He also managed to appear in all 13 games, with two starts another indicator that he caught on to the defense quickly—while also showing special teams value.

That value will make him a fixture on Scott Booker’s run units. And Martini will also see plenty of playing time against the option. With run-powered attacks coming against Navy, Georgia Tech (and likely Boston College), Martini will be an in-the-trenches type, capable of taking Onwualu off the field, and also sliding inside if needed. Martini’s nine tackles as a true freshman against Navy triggerman extraordinaire Keenan Reynolds is probably one of the more overlooked performances of the season.

I like underdogs and have always liked Martini. So while most looked at this freshman class of linebackers and wonder how long it’ll take them to jump the line, I see Martini as a key contributor and potential starter in the future.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Martini is still likely a part-time player in his third season of competition. But there’s the makings of a highly productive linebacker here, and I expect to see that sooner than later. One of the poster boys of the RKG prototype, Martini is a better athlete than he’s given credit for, has shown a nose for the football, and will have plenty of opportunities to win a job with Jaylon Smith and Joe Schmidt out the door.

His versatility should allow him to play all three linebacker spots this season if needed. That type of thing—along with a nice dose of experience—could serve as a tiebreaker when the defensive staff is choosing a starter at the Will linebacker position.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

I’m not sure how he’ll do it, but I expect Martini to take the second-most snaps of any linebacker behind Nyles Morgan. The logic is fuzzy—senior James Onwualu will likely be the starting Sam linebacker—and the Irish staff believes in talented sophomore Te’von Coney. But there are just so many things that Martini is good at, and keeping him on the field makes too much sense.

Productivity wise, I’m expecting a jump as well. We’ve seen Martini thrive against option opponents. Add in run-heavy opponents like Nevada, Michigan State and Army to the slate and too many arrows point to opportunities for Martini. I expect him to seize them.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston
Mark Harrell
Daelin Hayes
Jay Hayes
Tristen Hoge
Corey Holmes
Torii Hunter Jr.
Alizé Jones
Jamir Jones
Jarron Jones
Jonathan Jones
Tony Jones Jr.
Khalid Kareem
DeShone Kizer
Julian Love
Tyler Luatua
Cole Luke

 

 

 

Irish A-to-Z: Cole Luke

TEMPE, AZ - NOVEMBER 08:  Cornerback Cole Luke #36 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the college football game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium on November 8, 2014 in Tempe, Arizona. The Sun Devils defeated the Fighting Irish 55-31.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Notre Dame’s most-tenured starter is Cole Luke, with 26 starts manning a challenging post for Brian VanGorder. Now a senior on a defense lacking in experience, Luke will have leadership duties as well as the job of covering opponents No. 1, needing a strong finish to his collegiate career after a year stuck in neutral.

Flying under the national radar—Luke didn’t find his name on the Jim Thorpe watch list—there’s a very good cornerback capable of playing at a championship level. But Luke will need to play with a sense of urgency that usually comes with a final season, a veteran who is now long in the tooth, able to draw on the memory of some really good battles over the past three seasons.

 

COLE LUKE
5’11”, 193 lbs.
Senior, No. 36, CB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Top 150 player, offers from both Oklahoma and Texas before choosing Notre Dame. Luke was an early target for Notre Dame, and played at Hamilton under former Irish quarterback Steve Belles.

Luke committed early and then stuck with Notre Dame as some elite programs kept giving chase. It was a big recruiting win.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2013): Played in all 13 games, made 15 tackles. Broke up two passes. Made six tackles against Air Force.

Sophomote Season (2014): Played and started all 13 games, finishing sixth on the team with 48 tackles. Tied for team lead with four interceptions. Broke up 11 passes, good for the third most in school history and the most since 1978. Also defended 15 passes, tied for 20th in FBS. Had two interceptions against Stanford.

Junior Season (2015): Started all 13 games, making 41 total tackles, one TFL, two interceptions and five pass break-ups. Led Notre Dame’s defense with 870 total snaps, playing his best-graded game against Pitt, per PFF College.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

Luke didn’t have the season that he did in 2014, when he was challenged with perhaps the most dynamic slate of top-line receivers in the country.

For as productive as Luke was last year, this season might be primed for even better returns. if KeiVarae Russell is as good as expected, opponents won’t want anything to do with him. So that might mean Luke’s number is getting called more often, a great situation for a cornerback who believes in his ability to make plays.

In 2015, we need to find out how competitive Luke really is. Russell will bring that out in his secondary mates — and Lyght will foster it as well. But every great cover man plays with zero memory and a unbendable self-belief that seemed to exist at moments for Luke, but also showed some low-points (I’m thinking of the USC game, specifically).

That’s life as a sophomore. But Luke is an upperclassman now and has the potential to be as good as he wants to be. We’ll find out in 2015 if that’s just a productive college cornerback… or a DB with the chance to be another top draft pick on a roster that looks stacked with pro prospects.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

There’s an NFL player here, and Luke’s senior season will determine whether or not he’s a guy drafted in the early-to-mid rounds or if he’s a player who’ll fight to stay on the bottom of a roster. He won’t likely test with elite speed and he’s got good-but-not-great size. So he’ll need to make his waves as a technician, and find a way to be around the football more—something he did quite well as a sophomore.

But Luke at his best is a standout. The more you watch his sophomore season (and flashes last year) the more you see a a coverman with great positional talent.

Whoever starts opposite Luke next season will be a newcomer. So that’ll mean the senior will draw the marquee assignments, potentially flipping sides of the field and following a receiver if Todd Lyght and VanGorder think that makes the most sense. So Luke will have plenty of opportunities to showcase his talents before the next level awaits.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Luke is a key piece of the puzzle for the Irish in 2016. He and Max Redfield will be senior starters on the back end, two veterans who absolutely need to bring their best to the table for the Irish defense to improve. I think Luke is primed to do just that, playing his third season in a system he’s familiar with and playing for the second straight year with Lyght as his position coach.

Can Luke make big plays? He sure can. We saw him all around the football in 2014 with 11 pass breakups and four picks. That’s the type of impact the Irish need from him, and it’ll likely determine whether or not he gets looked at as a national player or just a nice veteran.

To be a great cornerback you need to be a productive one, and this defense desperately needs to find ways to take the football away and be impactful. I think Luke does it this year, growing into a leadership role and playing with the confidence of a senior. Luke’s my pick to lead the secondary in interceptions and pass breakups.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston
Mark Harrell
Daelin Hayes
Jay Hayes
Tristen Hoge
Corey Holmes
Torii Hunter Jr.
Alizé Jones
Jamir Jones
Jarron Jones
Jonathan Jones
Tony Jones Jr.
Khalid Kareem
DeShone Kizer
Julian Love
Tyler Luatua

Irish A-to-Z: Tyler Luatua

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With a change of heart, Tyler Luatua decided to stay at Notre Dame after announcing his intention to transfer to BYU before spring practice. Accepted back onto the team after a meeting with Brian Kelly, Luatua now needs to find his place back into a stacked tight end depth chart.

Luatua’s got a unique skill-set compared to the rest of his positional partners. Built more like a guard than a receiver, he could be a key piece of the running attack as an attached blocker, though he’ll need to find consistency and stay healthy.

 

TYLER LUATUA
6’2.5″, 255 lbs.
Junior, No. 13, TE

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Notre Dame beat out Alabama for Luatua’s signature, where his brother played as a reserve offensive lineman. Luatua had an elite offer list that didn’t quite mesh with a modest three-star ranking, likely because of height limitations.

Still, Notre Dame was excited about landing a prospect who may not have been to their usual positional profile, but was someone they targeted early.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Played in 10 games, with the majority of his action coming as a second tight end. His largest contributions came against LSU in the Music City Bowl victory.

Sophomore Season (2015): Played in 10 games, starting three (Virginia, Navy and against Ohio State). Tallied no stats in the passing game, though played 212 offensive snaps in his ten games.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

He didn’t stay healthy and he didn’t catch a pass. Swing and a miss.

Want a potential touchdown vulture in the red zone? Sound smart and consider Luatua one of your dark horse candidates. When Malik Zaire is bootlegging after a nice play fake, Luatua looks like the perfect candidate to haul in a pass in the flats, rumbling for a score.

As mentioned above, Luatua’s work won’t find the stat sheet all the time. But the fact that he shed some bad weight between the fall and the spring, and the fact that he’ll be working in a slightly different offense makes Luatua one of the offense’s more intriguing under-the-radar contributors.

Notre Dame knew what it wanted when it chased hard after Luatua in recruiting. And a thumping tight end who can punish you at the line of scrimmage and also be a very difficult body to tackle in space already looks like the baseline.

While the tight end depth chart is still mostly a mystery, if Luatua is healthy I’ve got him pegged for 13 games and a ton of good blocking. Throw in a few short catches or some damage in the playaction game and it’ll be fun to see how his career progresses.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Notre Dame’s designated blocker needs to prove he can be a better… blocker. There was too much inconsistency at the point of attack for Luatua, who graded out negatively in seven of the ten games he played, per PFF College.

Those stats sometimes skew negative when your job is evaluated on a won-loss record against an offensive lineman or blitzing linebacker, but that’ll be Luatua’s niche if he can have one these next two seasons. With Jacob Matuska transitioned to the position, Luatua will battle a larger body for snaps in two-tight end personnel groupings, with the ability to keep opponents honest if there’s a roll-out or play action.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

With Alizé Jones transitioning to receiver and Durham Smythe having health struggles these past few years, Luatua could very well be one of the team’s snap-leaders at the position. But he’s got to improve his technique and consistency.

Skipping spring ball isn’t the best way to get a jump start on a position battle. But credit Luatua for making the tough decision to come back and to Kelly for welcoming him back with open arms.

Luatua has too much experience not to play a significant supporting role. I don’t suspect he’ll find his way into the passing game with better options at the position, but this offense’s DNA could be that of a power-running team. And that means a significant role for the third-year contributor.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston
Mark Harrell
Daelin Hayes
Jay Hayes
Tristen Hoge
Corey Holmes
Torii Hunter Jr.
Alizé Jones
Jamir Jones
Jarron Jones
Jonathan Jones
Tony Jones Jr.
Khalid Kareem
DeShone Kizer
Julian Love

 

 

Notre Dame gets commitment from DT Darnell Ewell

Darnell Ewell
Rivals / Yahoo Sports
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Virginia defensive tackle Darnell Ewell committed to Notre Dame on Friday, giving the Irish a future building block in the trenches. The 6-foot-4, 295-pounder is a consensus 4-star prospect, a Top 150 player who picked Notre Dame over finalists Michigan, Ohio State, Clemson and Alabama.  (That’s the first time I’ve ever typed that sentence.)

Ewell visited Notre Dame in June, a family trip that really paid dividends in the Irish’s pursuit of the future defensive tackle. He talked about what made Notre Dame right for him, taking a quote out of the RKG playbook, with a tip of the cap to White Castle. (Again, the first time I’ve ever typed that sentence.)

Irish 247’s Tom Loy had the money quote, when Ewell decided it was going to be Notre Dame after a Midwestern swing through South Bend, Columbus and Ann Arbor:

“It was really exciting. The coaches were really, really excited,” Ewell told Irish 247. “Believe it or not, after the visits I went on, I went to White Castle. We talked it over and thought about it.

“That’s when I knew I found the best school for me and the one I really, really fit in at. Trust me, I really fit in there. This decision was really good for me. They have the academics and football. It was just a really good opportunity that I couldn’t pass on. So, I took it.”

Ewell’s commitment pushes Notre Dame’s 2017 recruiting class to 16. It also puts the Irish among the top groups in the country, with just about every recruiting service viewing Notre Dame’s class in the Top 5, with Scout putting the Irish at No. 2.

The defensive front now has Ewell along side Kurt Hinish. Jonathan MacCollister also likely could grow into a three-technique, with the Irish in pursuit of several edge rushers with over six months to go until Signing Day.

Ewell is an honor student, National Honor Society Member and in the Junior ROTC at Lake Taylor High School.