Defensive coordinator Rick Minter knows he has his hands full in rebuilding the Irish defense. Notre Dame and Minter will have to find eight new starters on defense in 2005, but Minter says that might not be such a bad thing.
"We are looking for those that want to compete—those who want to challenge for positions and are willing to rise up to those challenges, and I know we'll be challenged by the proficiency of our own offense," Minter said.
"It will all wash itself out. Up until now it's all been speculation and talk, and who's got the right answer about the depth chart. The good news for 15 days is we're going to roll the marbles out there, and at the end of the day, where do you rank? We're going to grade and evaluate each and every day, and the last man standing is going to be the person who wins that job."
Competition will certainly assist the Irish players in improvement, and Minter also believes having some new faces on the coaching staff also opens opportunities for every Irish player.
"The fun thing about football is it's a new year. Not only is it a new year, it's a new coaching staff," he said. "The players should have double the reason why to be enthusiastic about, one, forgetting what happened in the past. We don't have any control of that, nor do they anymore.
"If they want to jump on board on a new level of excitement, and a new way of doing things, this is the time. We don't have a ton of new guys coming in the fall. This is the time for all upperclassmen to take a major step forward in their progress. It's now time to step up. You've got to get all of that across to them. Be it a new attitude, crunch time, a sense of urgency, you're so limited with time.
"There has to be a sense of urgency. Hopefully it's an urgency to change the past and make better outcomes for the future."
Minter, who spent 10 seasons as head coach at Cincinnati, says he has a plan for what he wants to accomplish this spring.
"No 1., we have to evaluate the level of talent we have, the level of experience," Minter said. "We also have to try to install our concepts on defense. Find out what we can handle and what we can't handle—how well we can perform it, and how well we can digest information.
"And yet try to improve each and every kid fundamentally and technique-wise to be the best they can possibly be as players. You've got fifth-year seniors that ought to be rounding the corner to play their best ball ever, and we're counting on so many red-shirt freshmen who've never been through spring ball before.
"There's a lot of levels that we have to put all the pieces of the puzzle together when it's all said and done to find out who can best line up against Pittsburgh and make an impact for us."
The veteran coach says he's not sure how much of the defense he'll be able to install this spring.
"We have our way of doing things in terms of at what rate we can digest and perform and excel in. The players will dictate that, and time will dictate that," he said. "We'll lay a plan out there for them and see who can latch on, and who struggles and is not quite as far along as we want them to be."
As a coach who's been in a number of new situations in the past, Minter says he's hoping his players embrace the opportunity they have in front of them this spring.
"Anytime you have a coaching change, half your guys are happy and half your guys are sad. Older guys think that now they have to go prove themselves all over again, and younger guys think that maybe they weren't given a fair chance. Now is their new chance. We told them from the first day that change can be good if we only embrace it."
One thing is certain: Minter is excited to be back roaming the sidelines for the Irish.
"Coaching here has been some of the best years of my life," Minter said. "We just need to get back to playing tough, disciplined football again. I'm excited to get going."