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Scheming on all sides: Defensive emphasis not lost in shuffle

Pat Leonard | Thursday, August 18, 2005

Charlie Weis’ offense has won championships, and Irish quarterbacks coach Peter Vaas is a former NFL Europe head coach.Though third-year quarterback Brady Quinn must learn an entirely new system, his coaches have solid offensive track records. And that makes it logical for the main topic of conversation surrounding the 2005 Irish squad to be its offense.But just like the New England Patriots’ defense consistently provided good field position and allowed few points, the Irish on the other side of the ball must compliment Weis’ system with efficiency.Though the defense returns only three starters and will have less experience in terms of minutes logged, free safety Tom Zbikowski believes the defensive schemes being installed will stop opponents’ air attacks that took Notre Dame out of many of its games in 2004.”[Our scheme] is a lot more based on coverage,” Zbikowski said. “I think we get a lot more doubles on receivers just the way our coverages pan out.”It’s not necessarily based on ‘We’re doubling this guy.’ It just always turns out that we’ll be doubling one or two guys and getting linebackers into coverage. There’s not going to be too many passes that are gonna be completed.”The Irish are working on numerous blitz packages, experimenting a version of defensive coordinator Rick Minter’s 3-4 at South Carolina to protect the pass first.If a three-man front can contain draws and run plays, Notre Dame can use a larger linebacker core to contain pass coverage, alter blitz schemes and create more of the natural double teams that Zbikowski observed.”You look at some of the film of South Carolina … it looks like the blitzes and the pressures are working really well,” defensive tackle Trevor Laws said.Last season, regardless of offensive production, Notre Dame’s run defense stayed consistent and gave up only 88 yards rushing per game. But the secondary – and more generally, the pass defense – lacked not only the ability to stop an air attack. It lacked the ability to deter teams who could – Southern Cal, Purdue, Pitt – throw almost every down.Linebacker Brandon Hoyte, defensive tackle Derek Landri and Zbikowski are the only returning starters from that group. In addition, the Irish have lost a few prospective contributors to transfers, departure or position change.Defensive back Freddie Parrish transferred to Stephen. F. Austin University, a Division I-AA program, and was added to their roster Wednesday afternoon. Defensive lineman Brandon Nicolas left the team Thursday. Junior Jabbie moved from defensive back to running back. And the defensive ends are experiencing what defensive line coach Jappy Oliver called “growing pains” after Wednesday’s practice.”I just want the end spot to be more consistent,” he said, referring also to the depth of the position. “Sometimes I see flashes and then other times they take a step back, and I just want consistency at a lot of the other ends.”Victor Abiamiri leads the defensive ends with 37 career tackles after returning from a spring leg injury, but the coaches hope Abiamiri and others will create a disruptive pass rush to help the pass defense.Zbikowski said all of the defensive backs were making progress but specified Ambrose Wooden, strong safety Chinedum Ndukwe and freshman David Bruton as players that were having strong fall camps.Zbikowski also said defensive backs coach Bill Lewis’ attention to detail has benefited the group. In the first spring practice open to the media in Notre Dame Stadium, Lewis could be seen stopping standard drills to demonstrate technique himself – back pedaling and breaking a sweat.”That’s what we needed, a coach like that, [who’s] real thorough,” Zbikowski said.