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Football: Moving in the trenches

Jay Fitzpatrick | Thursday, April 12, 2007

After graduating three starters on the defensive line this season, Notre Dame has to start building its new 3-4 defense by first rebuilding its defensive line.

The Irish graduate defensive ends Victor Abiamiri and Chris Frome and defensive tackle Derek Landri, and lost defensive end Ronald Talley – the only Irish backup with any real playing time – as a transfer to Delaware this off-season.

The anchor of the defensive line will be fifth-year senior Trevor Laws, a defensive tackle last season who moved this spring to defensive end in Brown’s new scheme.

“He thought it would be a struggle for him, but I think he’s starting to adjust and like it now, especially because we’re starting to do some different things,” defensive line coach Jappy Oliver said.

One of the main reasons for Laws’ move to the end was to free him up to be more effective in the trenches.

“He’s got a good punch, you’re not going to move him off the line of scrimmage, and I think he’s starting to enjoy it a little more because we’re going to do some things with him,” Oliver said. “We’re going to do some things to free him up.”

Although the full playbook will include plays designed to give Laws room to maneuver at defensive end, Oliver said practices so far have been “vanilla” just to get the players acclimated to the new system.

“But now we put some stuff in today and over the next couple of weeks. When we get back, we’ll put some more stuff in. and we’ll put some stuff in for him also,” Oliver said in an April 4 interview.

One difficulty rebuilding the defensive line this year for Oliver is that so many of his players are young or inexperienced.

Two of the main competitors for the nose guard position – sophomore Chris Stewart and junior Pat Kuntz – have little playing experience at the college level.

Kuntz appeared in 12 games last season, but only recorded seven tackles. But with a better chance of cracking into the starting lineup this season, Kuntz has stepped up his game this spring.

“Kuntz is doing a nice job. He’s a fighter. He’s got the temperament to play down inside,” Oliver said. “I like him. He’s another kid that could put another ten or twenty pounds on him if he could and just anchor it.”

Stewart has a harder transition to make because he is switching to the other side of the ball from the offensive line.

Stewart suffered an additional setback earlier this spring after he sprained an ankle.

“Any time a player, no matter who you are, whenever you miss, you don’t want guys to miss because inevitably there’s going to be something that you have to catch up on,” defensive coordinator Corwin Brown said. “When you miss days, it’s going to affect you. So he’s just going to learn as much as he can and get healthy and come back.”

Overall, Brown has been pleased with the performance of his defensive line this spring – especially the more experienced players.

“They’re taking to the coaching, and that’s encouraging because if you can’t hold up there, you are going to have a lot of trouble,” he said. “They’re taking to the technique. They’re understanding things better. There’s a lot we still don’t have in, but what we’re doing, I will say that with the d-line I have been relatively pleased with the older guys.”