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FOOTBALL:Defensive line proves to be strength for Irish

Kate Gales | Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Never look back.

As the 2005 season dawns in South Bend, the Irish have lost star defensive end Justin Tuck to the New York Giants in the third round of the NFL draft. A defensive line that helped hold opponents to just six rushing touchdowns is being forced to rebuild, returning only nose guard Derek Landri.

But if the Blue-Gold game is any indication, controlling the line of scrimmage could be a strength of the Irish defense next year.

“I think that I’m encouraged that some guys are starting to play themselves into the mix and allow us to start establishing some depth, and I think we’re moving in the right direction,” Irish coach Charlie Weis said. “We’ll have a couple of guys that will be back here in August, freshmen coming in, and I think it’s going to end up being a pretty good – a pretty competitive group.”

Competitive is right. Trevor Laws was named the game’s most valuable defensive player after notching four tackles – three for loss – and a sack.

“I was flattered, it was pretty neat,” Laws said of the MVP award. “It was a nice little accolade to get. Lots of guys there could have been awarded it. I was pretty excited to get it – it was pretty nice.”

The defensive line was without Landri and defensive end Victor Abiamiri, both of whom are out with injuries. The fact that a variety of players saw time was heartening to a rebuilding defensive unit.

“The young guys have stepped up greatly,” Laws said. “We’re returning Landri and [Abiamiri], I mean, we’re going to have an awesome d-line, so I’m pumped about it.”

Notre Dame defensive line coach Jappy Oliver has worked extensively with his young players.

“He’s a great guy, he’s just one of those guys – he’s like one of the players, you know,” said Laws. “It’s easy to talk to him, he’s a great coach to play for because he can relate with you. Even on the field, he’s pumped right there with you.”

Oliver has also helped the defensive line to come together as a unit.

“Everyday Coach Jappy leaves the meeting room and lets us just meet in there by ourselves for a while, talk with each other as much as we want, gel with each other,” Laws said. “We’re all real close, so it really helps out on the field too.”

The Blue team was coached by former Notre Dame lineman Chris Zorich, who presented Laws with the MVP award.

“He’s my idol, man,” Laws said of Zorich. “Everybody calls me ‘Little Zorich,’ so I’ve got to live up to that, so it was awesome that he gave [the award] to me.”

Zorich was pleased with the performance of the defensive line in the spring game.

“I was excited that they had the opportunity to play together,” he said. “Having those players together on the same team in a game situation can be very beneficial to your team.”

Defensive captain Brandon Hoyte is confident in the abilities of the players on the defensive line.

“I think we’re very fortunate to have the guys that we do running around making plays, and as a linebacker, that makes my job a lot easier,” he said.

Laws agreed, pointing out that the spring game showed solid fundamentals and development as a unit.

“I thought [the defensive line] played great out there,” Laws said. “Everybody seemed real solid, no mental errors really, we shut them down pretty good, and everybody looks good. If everybody comes back, we’re going to be tough to stop.”