The Notre Dame defense finished ranked No. 98 in pass efficiency defense last season. The Irish also surrendered 14 passing touchdowns in the final three games of 2004. While most blamed a struggling secondary, the Irish didn't generate a lot of pass rush last season despite having Notre Dame's all-time sack leader Justin Tuck on the field.
The Irish did collect 30 sacks in 2004—not a great number—but they didn't create the pressure needed in the big games. Even Tuck finished the season with just six sacks after seeing constant double teams.
Defensive line coach Jappy Oliver knows he'll have to find ways to generate a pass rush this fall if the Irish defensive line is going to hold up their end of the bargain. >/P>
"As a rule of thumb, like I stated earlier in the preseason and in the spring, if you don't have guys coming off the edge that have 4.5-4.6 speed, you've got to do some things to help them out, and that's what we're doing," Oliver said. "You may see us doing more movement. I like the mobility of our tackles inside. Just because they're tackles inside don't mean they're going to stay there inside rushing. You may see them coming around corners and doing different things. So we'll do some things scheme-wise to help us pass rushing, I promise you.".
"It's a lot of things," said Oliver when asked what he does to try to generate a pass rush. "It could be personnel, it could be scheme, it could be play-calling—all of those things come into play. Hopefully we can put them in the right defense at the right time to get some pass rush to help the secondary."
The name most Irish fans are familiar with, and the guy many think will be asked to be the sack specialist this year is Victor Abiamiri. Abiamiri has played since his freshman season and he's looking forward to taking on a greater role this season.
"I think I've spent a lot of time in the off-season trying to improve on my inconsistencies," Abiamiri said. "I'm just ready to go out there and improve myself this season."
"We're definitely ready to step up to the challenge," Abiamiri said when asked if he and his teammates can generate the pass rush left by Tuck's absence. "We definitely have a bunch of experience guys so we're ready to step up. It's just a passing of the torch. A class graduates and a new class steps up."
Irish head coach Charlie Weis says the Irish can't just rely on Abiamiri to get to the quarterback this season.
"We're in that position where you know the guys that are going to be on the field a bunch and he's going to be one of them," Weis said of Abiamiri. "Obviously you can't just take a guy and say ‘they're Justin Tuck now.' Justin was a very good pass rusher. We all know he had great pass rush ability. I think a lot of people are going to have to pick up the slack on the pass rush end. As far as defensive end play, I think Victor is a very sound player. I don't have any reservation that he'll be ready to go."
The player that will line up at the opposite end position is senior Chris Frome. Frome says that people shouldn't be too eager to throw in the towel on the Irish defense this season.
"Everyone is expecting our offensive to be pretty much unstoppable--but our defense--to win a championship you need a great defense," Frome said. "Our D-line especially, we're working so hard with these new schemes. A lot of guys are coming back on the defensive line and it makes my job a lot easier to be out there with them. We're all expecting big things.
"People are overlooking our defense—talking about our offense. If we're going to have a successful season, and everyone expects a very successful season this year, we've got have a great defense."
Weis is also excited about Frome's abilities. Weis kind of smiles when the Saugus, Calif. natives name is mentioned—almost as if he has a secret about Frome. We're guessing he thinks Frome is the lunch pail type of player that Weis loves to coach.
"He's in that same type of mold where a guy has good ability but they were behind good players," Weis said of Frome. "He was behind (Justin) Tuck. It's kind of tough to justify taking Tuck off the field, but now he's gone and someone's got to step up and make plays and I think Chris has relished the opportunity, he's making the most of it and he's really looking forward to getting on the field and helping us win."
While most would say neither Abiamiri or Frome could quite match Tuck's quickness at the defensive end position, Frome says they have a scheme that should be very effective this fall.
"Coach Minter, he likes moving around our front," he said. "He likes being able to call out the strengths of an offense and moving towards those strengths. He has a lot of calls on the field that we make—a lot of audibles—it helps us move to the strength of the offense.
"Last year we had rules for everything. We had reads before the snap, reads after the snap. To a certain extent coach Oliver just lets us play. This defense is designed for playmakers and that's what they expect out of us."
Abiamiri agreed with Frome's assessment of the new scheme.
"I think coach Oliver is kind of trying to take advantage of the athletic ability he has on the D-line," he said. "I can see that through that through the scheme he's trying to instill in us."
The pass rush will be very important this season, but so will be defending the run. The Irish were very sound against the rush last season and finished ranked No. 4 in the country against the rush.
"I think we've held up pretty well," Abiamiri said when asked how the Irish defense has done defending the rush this fall camp. "The offensive scheme is obviously pretty good, and the defensive scheme is pretty good as well. We've been through camp seeing a lot of things that they've thrown at us. Us going against the offense has only made us better, so we're going into the season very confident against both the rush and the pass."
"I think the defense will be strong again this year," Abiamiri added. "There's no drop off between this year and last year. I think we're going to pick up right where we left off and try and improve on that."
Frome says he can't wait to get on the field next Saturday to show what the defense can do.
"I came here to play and this is my time now," he said. "I'm getting really excited. It's just around the corner. I can't wait."
The Irish will have to hope both Frome and Abiamiri stay healthy in 2005. The Irish have zero playing experience behind both Frome and Abiamiri, and both will be counted on heavily to bolster an inexperienced defense.
If the Irish can generate a solid pass rush in 2005, the inexperience starting in the secondary could be minimized.