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FOOTBALL: Defense looks to stay tough without Tuck

Bobby Griffin | Thursday, April 7, 2005

Coming into the season, the Irish clearly have a huge missing piece on the defensive line. A 6-foot-4, 265-pound missing piece.That’s not to say that anyone involved with Notre Dame football is noticeably worried about the absence of Justin Tuck. After all, it’s a new season and there is a new coaching staff.”We’re building towards the future,” Irish defense end Victor Abiamiri said. “The old guys, they did us well, but they’re not here anymore.” The Irish being optimistic about their defensive line next season has a lot to do with Abiamiri. The sophomore defensive end is a talented pass rusher who will be the leader in this year’s group. “I’m ready to step up to this challenge,” Abiamiri said. “We’ve got guys that have been through the program and done well, but they are gone now. It’s like a new team trying to build a new identity, and I’m trying to be one of the anchor points of the defensive line.”Tuck’s absence has created a situation in which a number of players are vying for a chance to take his place.As of now, Chris Frome and Travis Leitko appear to be the front-runners.”Right now we got Chris Frome working on the right side, and we got Travis Leitko working on that side,” Irish defensive line coach Jappy Oliver said. “Those two are competing well, and I’ve been pleased with their progress right now.”Abiamiri echoed his coach’s thoughts.”We’re rotating a lot to see what kind of abilities everyone has, giving everybody equal chances,” Abiamiri said. “I’m not sure how its going to be when the season comes around, but hopefully we’ll have a nice rotation going and keeping guys fresh in there.”This competition is no secret to Leitko, who expressed his own desire to be on the playing field come next fall. “We got a lot of young guys on the d-line … everybody’s fighting for position,” Leitko said. “For me, I want to be starting, I want to be out there on the d-line. “It’s all about making plays. I’m getting the defenses down, the technique, where I’m supposed to be, but now its getting off blocks, getting to that ball, just being athletic out there.”Oliver complimented the group’s intensity in practice Tuesday and stressed the development of his unit in general this spring.”We’re progressing okay,” Oliver said about Tuesday’s practice. “Guys got after it, and I like the way everybody’s competing.”Competing is the clear word here. The intensity in practice that Leitko and Frome have shown thus far battling for a starting spot come next season is not exclusive to the two.There are a lot of players who have been working hard in order to both live up to expectations and earn playing time. Justin Brown, a current 6-foot-3, 240-pound freshman defensive end/linebacker, has impressed defensive coordinator Rick Minter to the point where he is throwing his name out there with Leitko and Frome.”We got Leitko and Frome competing right now, and they are both doing a good, solid, steady job,” Minter said. “You’ve got Justin Brown [who’s] a little bit limited in terms of a minor injury. He’s the youngest of that lot too, and that shows up, but he’s got some promise. I like the way [Brown is] beginning to show up, he’s just a pup.”A lot of questions regarding the defensive line will undoubtedly be answered as the spring practices progress.But whatever happens, it will not be for lack of intensity or effort from the Irish players.

Notes:u After practice, Coach Charlie Weis addressed the issue of the “Get Nasty” wristbands that have been circulating around campus. He emphasized the connotation of the word nasty and also gave a little insight as to his son Charlie’s thoughts on the matter.”Somebody’s making money off of me. My son called me up this morning and it was kinda funny, he goes, ‘Daddy, do you get a cut of that action?’ and I said ‘No Charlie, I don’t get a cut of that action,'” Weis said. “I understand marketing and all that stuff, but I think the most important thing is for people to understand that nasty is not a negative, nasty is a positive.”u After practice on Monday, Weis spoke about how the offense was dominated by the defense. The team was coming off Sunday and Monday when they had not practiced.The offense and defense broke out of their isolated drills early into practice Tuesday and lined up 11-on-11. Coach Weis was asked about why they had gone into that so early in practice and Weis replied in a firm, matter of fact manner.”We had 11-on-11 early today because I wasn’t very happy about it yesterday,” Weis said.