Abiamiri, a senior defensive end who is currently fourth on Notre Dame's career sacks and tackles-for-loss lists, got a taste of what's in store during the spring game. He was met by two blockers the majority of the plays. Abiamiri didn't show up in the box score, recording no tackles, but he opened things up for guys like game defensive MVP Trevor Laws or Derek Landri to make plays and get to the quarterback.
The Irish cannot afford to have the 6-foot-4, 260-pound Abiamiri be invisible in the box score during the upcoming season if they plan to make a run at the national championship. A pass rush led by the Randallstown, Md. product will have to generate more than a slightly skewed 31 sacks (seven coming against Stanford) to make a run at the school's first title since 1988.
Head coach Charlie Weis and his staff obviously know that, as they really worked on pass rushing schemes during the spring. But until someone else starts wreaking havoc in the opposition backfield, Notre Dame's premier pass rusher will have to go through two people before he even sniffs the quarterback. Despite constant attention last year, Abiamiri still made 48 tackles including 15 tackles for loss and a team-high eight sacks.
With a little improvement, there are many viable prospects to take some of the pressure off of the left end.
Senior Chris Frome, whose season ending injury against USC also kept him out this past spring, is in line to return to his starting end spot opposite Abiamiri. He had one sack and six tackles in six games at that post last year.
When Frome went down, juniors Ronald Talley and Justin Brown played a lot of minutes at the right end spot. Talley registered 23 tackles and a sack, while Brown made 12 tackles. Talley appears to be ahead of Brown based off the spring, but there has also been whispers that the 6-foot-4, 261-pound Talley could move to defensive tackle. Right now, it appears that Talley will be staying put. Another option is Dwight Stephenson, Jr., who appeared in six games in 2005. Stephenson, Jr. also could play at defensive tackle if needed.
The interior part of the defensive line appears to be very solid with the return of fifth-year senior starter Derek Landri and the senior Laws. With those two plugging up the middle, the Irish only gave up an average of 132.3 rushing yards per game, ranking a very respectable 34th in the nation.
Rumor has it that Landri has really bulked up for his final season, with talk that he is weighing in around the 290 range. A pair of 290-pound defensive tackles eats up a lot of space in the college game. Landri has been a solid player for two years at an undersized 260 pounds (43 tackles, including eight tackles for loss and three sacks in 2005). Just imagine the three-year starter at 290.
Laws, who had two sacks in the spring game, made 33 tackles including three for loss in 2005. This spring he appeared to be much better than last year.
Sophomores Derrell Hand and Pat Kuntz should be the primary backups behind Laws and Landri. Hand, who sat out the season last year, has really transformed his body since arriving on campus. He has shred a lot of pounds to get down around 300. He looked good in the spring game recording a sack. Kuntz made four tackles in nine games last year. Defensive line coach Jappy Oliver has singled him out as a guy that could be a player in the future. As of right now, Kuntz's measurements are close to the old Landri. An old face could make contributions in 2006. After sitting out last year for personal reasons, Travis Leitko rejoins the team to help the interior of the defensive line. A second-team USA Today All-American coming out of high school, Leitko has appeared in 22 games in his Irish career, totaling 17 tackles.