Not too many coaches have the luxury of having two 300-pound defensive linemen returning with the experience and athletic ability of Cedric Hilliard and Darrell Campbell. "I'm really excited to have these guys that I've been with for a long period of time and had an opportunity to watch them grow," said Mattison. "The things that excites me the most about this group is that their hungry and they want it. When you have veterans that do that there is good things ahead for you."
Justin Tuck could be the key factor for this unit and for the pass rush. The Irish have lacked a true pass rusher for many years and Tuck showed signs of becoming that type of player last year. Mattison thinks he will develop into that player this year. "That's what we're counting on," said Mattison of Tuck becoming both a dominating pass rusher as well as being able to stop the run. "We think he's matured enough and has been at that position long enough now where that is the next phase to be able to play both the run and rush the passer. We know he can rush the passer and he understands that. That is a big thing for him—to show that he can play both and I have all the confidence in the world that he will do that."
Linebacker Jerome Collins has seen some time at defensive end on third downs and Mattison says Irish fans can expect to see more of him at defensive end this year. "That's another option for us. We used him a number of times last year in that role and he has great speed and great quickness and that's what we are always looking for in outside rushers. He's another option that will be using."
Greg Pauly has really matured into a productive lineman for Mattison and Mattison says they Pauly should be considered a starter on his defensive line. "When you talk about Greg Pauly, I consider him a starter. That's how much he's improved. I think he can go in and play a number of positions for us and do a good job. I've been very pleased with him."
Depth has been a problem for the defensive line for a number of years but Mattison feels that the Irish have really developed some talent there. "I think for the first time we have the opportunity to possibly have two solid groups of guys that can play. Brian Beidatsch played a lot last year. Derek Landri is finally 100 percent healthy. Dan (Santucci) has improved every day. We have the ability to be able to rotate guys this year."
Mattison had two very talented freshmen report on Tuesday in Victor Abiamiri and Trevor Laws. Mattison knows both have a tremendous amount of talent but he says it will take some time before both are ready to play. "What happens with freshmen is there is always that learning curve that we as coaches seem slow them down at first and then bring them back up. These two guys are very talented young men. The thing that impresses me the most is both of them really want to learn and they don't have those freshmen eyes. They come in every time with the idea that when they get thrown in there they're going to play hard and just do what comes natural. I think both of them are very talented young men and have great futures ahead of them."
The Irish appear stocked at defensive line for 2003 and years to come. If Mattison can develop the younger players on this team, this unit should be the strength of the defense in 2003.