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