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Football: Young and restless

Sam Werner | Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Heading into the 2009 season, the Irish defensive line may be one of Notre Dame’s most talented, if least experienced, position units.

“I think we’ve got a lot of young guys who’ve got a lot of potential,” sophomore defensive tackle Ethan Johnson said. “We’ve got a lot of team speed.”

Johnson appears to have the most potential of any Irish defensive lineman. As a freshman in 2008, the Portland, Ore. native appeared in all 13 games, racking up 18 tackles and 3.5 sacks, including two in Notre Dame’s Hawaii Bowl win.

Irish head coach Charlie Weis said he expects a more physically mature Johnson to take another step forward this season.

“Ethan Johnson played a whole bunch last year, but he wasn’t 285 [pounds] like he is right now,” Weis said in a press conference. “There’s a big difference. You look at him right now, he looks like a big muchacho.”

The Irish will have their most experienced defensive lineman starting up the middle in junior nose tackle Ian Williams, who has played in all 25 games of his Notre Dame career. Last year, Williams totaled 40 tackles, including two for a loss. Weis said Williams also added a great deal of strength in the off-season, and could now power clean close to 400 pounds.

“Ian is probably in the best shape he’s ever been in,” Weis said. “It isn’t just the power clean numbers, he’s in really good shape.”

Rounding out the starting line is sophomore Kapron Lewis-Moore, who may just be the biggest question mark. Even though he has yet to play a down for Notre Dame, Weis said he was confident in Lewis-Moore’s ability to contribute in 2009.

“He came here at 220 [pounds], he’s 265 [now],” Weis said. “He’s a lot more ready for prime time than he was a year ago, without a drop off in his athleticism as well.”

The Irish have several other players who will contribute in the defensive trenches in 2009 as well, most notably junior defensive end Kerry Neal and sophomore defensive tackle Hafis Williams.

“We’re excited about our youth, our athleticism,” Weis said. “I think with youth and athleticism comes some uncertainty as you go in.”

The Irish also have a new face coaching the defensive line in Randy Hart, who was hired after Jappy Oliver resigned. Hart had coached at Washington for the previous 21 seasons, and said he was excited about taking over a line full of potential.

“Because we don’t have the experience, the guys are excited and working hard,” Hart said.

At the end of the day, Hafis Williams said what the Irish defensive line lacks in experience, they’d make up for in intensity.

“Our opponents are going to see a team that’s like really hungry dogs and get after the ball every time,” he said.