Kent Baer says he's rarely happy in the spring. "No, I don't know if you ever are in spring," said Baer when asked if he's been pleased so far with the results of spring practice. "I don't know if I've ever been through one yet where I didn't feel like we should be further along. I think in some areas we've made some progress and some guys are getting better, but we've just got a long way to go."
Not all is gloom and doom for Baer. He says the Irish have done a lot of good things this spring. "We've got 90 percent of what were doing right now, base (defense) and nickel (defense) in. It's a lot of learning for the young guys. We need to start cutting down on assignment errors and we need to quit making physical and mental mistakes. We need to really improve these next six practices."
We asked Baer what he's been pleased with, and what he hopes the team improves on with the remaining practices. "I think it's just the whole scheme of things. Playing the defense as a defense and not playing individual defense. It seems like we get nine or 10 guys doing the right thing and one or two making a mistake and that just kills everything. The good news is we've had a lot of guys in the secondary get a lot of reps and they need them. That's an area where we're really young."
The Irish have been battling the injury bug along the defensive line. This has allowed Baer to get an idea of what some of the younger players can do. We asked Baer if any of the younger players have stood out. "I think Chris Frome has had an excellent spring. I really like what Chris has done. He did the same thing a year ago last spring and then he got hurt. He's seemed to really step up to the plate and is doing a good job. Victor's (Abiamiri) having and excellent spring. Derek Landri is having an excellent spring. It's unfortunate we have so many guys hurt because there's some who could use (reps)—Trevor Laws, (Brian) Beidatsch, Greg's (Pauly) been beat up too. Hopefully, when we get everyone back, it's going to be a nice looking front."
Speaking of Abiamiri, Baer says he reminds him a lot of Justin Tuck. "Sky is the limit," said Baer of Abiamiri's potential. "I said that when I first came here with Justin (Tuck). I kept saying "I'm not sure he quite knows how good he can be." I see Victor doing the same thing. He's got a lot to learn still, and he's still young. This spring is a real key time for him to really improve his technique and fundamentals. He's a very mature guy for his age."
Baer also had the chance to look at the future of Derek Landri and Trevor Laws inside before Laws got hurt. We asked Baer what he thought about the future of both players. "They do have pretty good quickness. I think they have pretty good leverage, they understand leverage which is huge for that position. The nice thing about it is you're creating some competition in some spots. That can only make you better."
The linebacker positions are sown up with Brandon Hoyte, Derek Curry and Mike Goolsby as the clear starters. We asked Baer if any younger players have stood out to him at linebacker. "Corey Mays has had an excellent spring. I'm not sure he's a young guy, but I've been really pleased with what he's doing. I think Joe Brockington has done a nice job for us. He's missed a little time, but he seems to understand a little quicker what we're trying to do defensively. If you're going to name a couple of younger guy who haven't played a lot, I'd name those two guys."
Strong safety has probably been the biggest battle this spring. Junior Lionel Bolen is fighting freshman Freddie Parish for the job. Has a leader emerged? "Right now there's not. There's a lot to learn. That's a position where there are a lot of things to learn. They all kind of seem to have their days. What we're doing there is kind of creating some competition there and I like that. Right now I wouldn't say anybody."
Tom Zbikowski is enjoying spring practice taking most of the reps at free safety. Baer says he's been very pleased with the play of the freshman. "Zbikowski is having an excellent spring. I like what I see from him."
Does that mean Zbikowski might challenge starter Quentin Burrell in the fall? "It's hard to say. Zibby does some excellent things and so does (Quentin Burrell). Those safeties have to be very interchangeable for us anyway. We're just creating more depth there I hope."
Defensive backs coach Steve Wilks has recently said that Carlos Campbell and Dwight Ellick appear to be the frontrunners at corner. Baer said he thinks the positions are still up for grabs. "I think they're both having good springs," said Baer of Campbell and Ellick.
"I was really impressed with some of the things Mike Richardson was doing even though he's hurt. He can't go full, but he came on toward the end of the year so between Dwight, Carlos, Mike Richardson and of course Preston Jackson coming back. (Jackson's) got a lot of playing time, (he's) a very intelligent guy, understands the defense. Ambrose Wooden is getting a lot of snaps. I think Ambrose Wooden is going to be an excellent player some day. He just doesn't have enough playing time there yet."
Baer is never one to offer high praise of his defense so his response should come as no surprise. But, one gets the sense he's telling the truth and that this defense still has a ways to go before being ready in 2004—and that is to be expected. The Irish still have some holes to fill—holes that likely won't be filled until the fall of 2004.