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Ready at a moment’s notice

Joe Hettler | Wednesday, September 3, 2003

Darrell Campbell knows what makes a good defensive line become a great one. He also knows the Irish have that element this season.

“Your defensive line is only as good as the guy behind you,” Campbell said. “Anybody can go down at any time, so it’s important to have everyone on the same page just as good as the No. 1 guy. From that standpoint, everybody has to be as good as or better than the guy ahead of them when they go in there.”

The Irish return three starters from a year ago: Campbell, Cedric Hilliard and Kyle Budinscak. They also have experience in junior Justin Tuck and senior Greg Pauly, who will rotate in the interior.

One of defensive line coach Greg Mattison’s goals for practices was to improve not just the starters, but their backups, too.

“I’m really pleased with the development of some of the younger kids,” Mattison said. “That’s what we tried to get out of camp – to try and establish a kind of two-deep rotation of some sort, and I think we’re heading closer and closer to that.”

Last year’s unit will have to replace graduate Ryan Roberts, who lead the defensive line with eight sacks. To fill that void, Mattison moved in Tuck, who converted from linebacker and was used as a pass rushing specialist for most of last season. Tuck’s improvement in stopping the run has helped him become an every down player.

“It’s easy to go run and get the quarterback. But when you have to stop and play run and take on blockers along the way, that’s something that’s not natural if you’ve never played that before,” Mattison said. “So the biggest key is to show him how to use his ability and his leverage to learn to stop the run.”

Tuck may be somewhat inexperienced as an every-play lineman, but Cambpell and Hilliard give the Irish plenty of experience, with both returning for their fifth years. The duo brings a combined 4.5 years of starting experience to the line and want to end their careers on a high note. Campbell recorded six sacks last season, while Hilliard added two sacks and five tackles for a loss. The two have played together the last two years together on the line.

“[Cedric] and I are always in the trenches all the time,” Campbell said. “We’re battleworn and ready.

In his first year as a starter, Budinscak had three sacks and six tackles for a loss in 2002. He also gained valuable experience that will help him in his second year as an Irish starter. He will be opposite Tuck at left end.

Senior Greg Pauly will switch in and out with both interior lineman and is expected to contribute significantly to this year’s unit. He played in just under 100 minutes last season in 13 games.

Campbell understands the success of the entire defense begins with the front four. The defensive line had success last season by pressuring the quarterback throughout games, without the aid of a blitz. This freed up the Irish secondary and allowed them to have an extra player roaming on pass plays.

This year the defensive backs have to replace players like Shane Walton and Gerome Sapp, making the defensive line’s job of pressuring the quarterback even more important.

“Coach Mattison always harps that a good defensive unit starts up front,” Campbell said. “It always starts up front so we need to make it easier for [the defensive backfield] to capitalize on miscues by the offense.”

With the first game against Washington State three days away, Mattison knows his unit is eager to play against an opponent.

“They’re probably thinking to themselves that they can’t wait to play someone different,” Mattison said.