Gone from 2004 are three-year starter Kyle Budinscak, two-year starter Justin Tuck, and the highly productive Greg Pauly. That is the reality for defensive line coach Jappy Oliver. The Irish will enter 2005 with some talent along the defensive line, but depth will certainly be a concern.
"Our depth on our entire team, especially on defense concerns us," Oliver said. "It's like anything else; you've got to develop that depth. We've got a lot of young guys that just have not been in the fray.
"From that standpoint we're wide open, and we're going into it with the anticipation of developing that depth and getting those guys ready to play. It's a concern, but not more than some other concerns we've got."
While Oliver knows a lot of talent has graduated, he says he's got to focus on the talent on hand, and he feels he has a lot to work with.
"It is a challenge, but it's a challenge we're looking forward to," Oliver said of working with his young players. "The kids that I've been working with so far are really receptive. We've got a whole new system coming in, and they've been really receptive to it. They've picked up on it just on paper. Now I can't wait to see them get out there and move and actually play the game."
The Irish have a solid nucleus to build around. Junior Derek Landri and sophomore Trevor Laws will likely man the inside. Sophomore Victor Abiamiri will also likely line up at one defensive end spot. All three played considerable minutes in 2004, each earning numerous starts.
The Flint, Mich. native admits he doesn't have a lot of information to go on with the younger players.
"We don't have any tape on a lot of those young guys," Oliver said. "We don't know what they can do until they put the pads on and take on people. All we're doing is evaluating their knowledge to grasp our defense, and actually see them running around and working in the weight room.
Talley has the potential to move inside and help out with depth for the Irish, but Oliver said he likely won't know where Talley will line up for sure for awhile.
"Ronald's a guy that we don't know if he's going to be inside or outside," Oliver said of Talley. "Unfortunately, because of an injury, we might not see him this spring. He's one guy we're not going to find out about. For some of the others, absolutely, we'll plug them in where we think they can help the defense."
Oliver, who spent the previous two seasons coaching the same position for former Irish coach Lou Holtz, said he's excited to kick off spring practice.
"Anytime you go to some place new, there's a great anticipation there," he said. "We've been here long enough to get teased a little bit and now we're saying ‘hey, I can't wait to see this guy put the pads on.'
"Working with offense and defensive linemen, you're not going to be able to tell what kind of a football they are just by their winter workouts. All their doing is running around. For us, it's going out and hitting somebody."
And what kind of football players is Oliver hoping to see?
"Hopefully you'll see hungry, crazed gentlemen flying all over the field," Oliver said. "We believe in running to the football because we believe it makes up for some of the mistakes you may make out there. We'll have a challenging package, but we feel these kids can handle that. Just flying around and making things happen."