The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have released their depth chart for the college football season opener against Temple on Saturday, and true freshman outside linebacker Jaylon Smith is listed as a starter.
Smith was heralded as a 5-star recruit out of Bishop Luers High School in Fort Wayne, Ind. and has wasted no time in letting his impact be felt on the historic program in South Bend.
No player at Smith's position was more highly touted by 247Sports.com's composite rankings, so there were immediate expectations for the youngster to live up to. He has evidently done that by rapidly ascending into the Irish's starting defense.
The versatility that Smith offers even at this early stage of his football career is staggering.
With the ability to rush the passer and the athleticism and quick hips to drop into coverage at 6'3" and 230 pounds (h/t Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune), there isn't much Smith can't do from a physical standpoint.
Losing Maxwell Award-winner and All-American linebacker Manti Te'o from the heart of the defense that allowed only 12.8 points per game in 2012 was going to be nearly impossible to replace.
Te'o played on the inside of the Irish's 3-4 alignment, snagging a whopping eight interceptions thanks to incredible play recognition skills and a knack for being in the right place at the right time. While Smith's position is different, his impact is invaluable to the unit's success this season.
Once his technique is refined and his football acumen inevitably increases under head coach Brian Kelly, there's no telling what Smith will be capable of as his time with the Irish progresses.
The Elkhart Truth's Rachel Turlep points out that Smith will be the first true freshman to start at linebacker for Notre Dame since Kory Minor in 1995.
ESPN.com's Matt Fortuna documented Kelly's recent musings about Smith, noting how the precocious player doesn't make the same mistake twice and how he's earned his No. 1 spot:
He had to work for it — it was Danny Spond, it was [Ben] Councell and it was Jaylon Smith; it didn't start the other way around. So [Smith] was No. 3 on the depth chart when he ran out there...He went out and he did his job, so he comes from a good family, he comes from a great program where they obviously did a great job of teaching him how to go about and do his thing and he's been great and he's put himself in a position now to do some great things.
Smith has the physique of a grown man even at the age of 19, so he should only become more visibly intimidating moving forward.
Beyond the measurable characteristics, Kelly notes that Smith also brings smarts and instincts to the table. It's also worth noting Smith's winning background from high school, where his program won four state titles.
The level of competition in Indiana high school football was a mild concern, but that seems to have been put to rest thanks to Smith delivering on the immense promise he showed as a prep-level prospect.
If Smith can get off to a strong start at home against Temple for the AP No. 14 Irish, it definitely bodes well for Notre Dame's trip to the Big House in taking on Michigan thereafter.
For now, though, it's worth appreciating Smith's rise and distinction as a starter—the first of his kind in nearly two decades. It will be exciting to say the least to see what Smith does when the ball is actually kicked off.