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Irish hope defensive line will be a team strength

Heather VanHoegarden | Wednesday, April 21, 2004

When three key defensive linemen went down to injury for the Irish, the spring looked bleak for the defensive line. But according to defensive coordinator Kent Baer, it has been quite the opposite.”The guys that aren’t practicing right now, we know what they can do,” Baer said. “There’s a lot of guys that wouldn’t have gotten as many reps [without the injuries]. In some ways, we’re able to develop a little more depth because of the injuries.”The injured include defensive end Kyle Budinscak, tackle Greg Pauly and defensive end Justin Tuck, who is recovering from a torn ACL. Tuck was sixth in the nation last season in sacks, as he recorded 13.5. He also finished third on the team with 73 tackles.Picking up the slack is rising sophomore Victor Abiamiri. After starting four games and playing in 12 last year, he has his sights set high in 2004.”I want to be the best I can be and help this team out the best way I can,” Abiamiri said. “I want to improve on my consistency. I want to be an All-American.”And for Abiamiri, he is just now becoming familiar with the system after a season of learning.”Mentally, I know the system,” he said. “I’m really mastering it. Everything’s just coming comfortably for me, so I can just sit back and make plays. I’m faster, quicker to react, rather than thinking about what I have to do.”Abiamiri also said he feels confident in the defensive line as a whole.”I think we should be able to set records,” Abiamiri said. “We have all the talent in the world. I think we’re as good as any d-line in the country, and we’ll be one of the best.”Last year as a true freshman, Abiamiri recorded 22 tackles, including 16 solos and was one of six Irish freshmen to earn a monogram. He was also named honorable mention freshman All-American by Rivals.com at the end of the season. He is using these experiences this spring to lead the line before Budinscak, Pauly and Tuck can return.”I see myself stepping up because these guys are gone,” Abiamiri said. “I think of the remaining linemen, I have the most experience. I’ve played the most minutes of all them. So I see myself as one of the veterans and one of the more experienced players, rather than a rookie.”Right now, Abiamiri is joined on the line by Chris Frome, Matt Hasbrook and Derek Landri.”We have some quality depth,” Baer said.The Irish hope that once healthy, their defensive line can become the run-stopping force it was in 2002.”[The defensive line] has to be our strength,” Baer said. “I think that group, along with our linebackers, that has to be our strength. We get that group healthy, and I like that group.”Abiamiri agreed, but he realizes that he too has to get better before he becomes the dominant player he strives to be.”One of the big things is we work on our technique constantly,” Abiamiri said. “Coach Mattison is a stickler about technique. I know I haven’t been perfect on my technique, and that’s what I’m striving for – everyday to get better.”And Baer recognizes the potential of the rising sophomore as well, even though last year he was surprised when Abiamiri made an impact as a true freshman.”We knew he was talented, we didn’t know that he was that talented,” Baer said. “He’s still very young, so he’s got a lot to learn. He needs to become a better fundamental sort of player, technique, that sort of thing. I see a great deal of improvement this spring from him.”He’s very talented, so you put that into the equation, into the fact that here’s a guy that loves football, he’s got great effort. He’s the total package.”