Time is Now For Kuntz

Notre Dame's move to a 3-4 personnel defense caused some Irish observers to ask: who is going to play nose tackle? With Trevor Laws, who played defensive tackle in last season's 4-3 scheme, moved out to left defensive end, that left junior Pat Kuntz and others with a chance to start in the middle.

The only problem for Kuntz is that the Irish lineman wasn't in the classic mold of a nose tackle. In the spring time, Kuntz's weight was somewhere in the low 270's. At the nose tackle position, defenders usually take on a center and a guard at the same time. Kuntz, no stranger to hard work, dedicated himself to two goals this summer.

"Strength and size," Kuntz said. "That's what I needed to do. Also, keep my speed. I always hit the weight room hard. But this year, I had a little extra motivation to take it up to the next notch."

The hard work paid off. Kuntz said his weight is up to 285 pounds and the junior was listed at the top of the preliminary depth chart before fall camp started on Monday. Further entrenching Kuntz's status as the man to beat at the nose tackle position was Derrell Hand's indefinite suspension last week after being arrested for solicitation of a prostitute. Hand was supposed to challenge Kuntz for playing time.

Now, it's freshman Ian Williams who Kuntz will battle for the starting spot. Weis challenged his older defensive linemen, minus Trevor Laws, to take advantage of the starting spots at nose tackle and right defensive end or a younger guy will snatch it from them. Kuntz has heeded these words for months.

"It's your time now," Kuntz said about his chance to start. "You aren't behind a Derek Landri anymore. You have to step up and show people what you got."

The added weight should further help Kuntz got toe-to-toe with the offensive linemen, most of whom will be bigger than the Notre Dame junior. The nose tackle position is not where a lot of ESPN highlights occur. Head coach Charlie Weis best explained the difficulty of the position.

"It's difficult because of the amount of double teams you get at that position," Weis said on Wednesday. "Anytime you play in a defense where there are guard bubbles, there's a potential not to have a lineman on either guard.

"The problem a nose tackle has different from a defensive end is that he can get a double team from either side. That's never the case for the defensive end because it's coming from either the guard or the tackle or the tackle and the tight end. You can see it coming. With the nose, you have to be ready. It's not a glamorous position. It's very physical."

Kuntz, who totaled seven total tackles last season as a reserve defensive tackle, is prepared for the physical nature of the job. The Irish junior is expecting the double teams in the middle but Kuntz is working hard on his technique not to get pushed back. He knows there might be the possibility of making a play or two a contest. If Kuntz performs his job, though, the Notre Dame junior's play in the middle of the defensive line will free up the defenders behind him.

"When the linebackers aren't making plays, it's usually because the nose tackle isn't doing their job," Kuntz said. "If I can get the center and the guard off of the linebacker, they'll be racking up tackles and making plays. The plays could have been a lot worse if I didn't do my job."

Kuntz has studied tape of nose tackles in the NFL to increase his knowledge of the position. The Irish junior has watched a lot of New England Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork on film. Both players stand at 6-2. The big difference is that Wilfork weighs 40 more pounds than Kuntz. Despite the disparity, Kuntz tries to get any pointers he can to help him on the field.

"He's not my body type and not even close," Kuntz said. "But I watch his technique and how he comes off the ball and how other times he's waiting and reacting more. I try to watch as much as possible."

Nobody will doubt Kuntz's toughness. As a senior in high school at Indianapolis Roncalli, Kuntz's team was on its way to a third straight state championship. But there was a slight stumble. Kuntz broke his arm late in the season. A lot of players, with a scholarship to a Division 1A school waiting in the wings, would have called it a year. Not Kuntz.

"It was my senior year," Kuntz said. "I broke my arm. The game after was our rival. I wasn't going to miss that. It was tough. It hurt a lot. I fought through it and we ended up winning state."

There were some that thought Kuntz shouldn't play any more that season. But the Indianapolis, IN native played through the pain and the team won it all for the third straight time.

"The doctor said he'd only seen one person in his 30 year career do it before," Kuntz said. "I didn't play much or the entire game. It hurt a lot. There were people that definitely doubted I couldn't do it. It was my senior year and I wasn't going to miss that."

A sign of this tough guy image now comes in the form of a haircut. Kuntz has a pseudo-Mohawk with the top kept long and the side buzzed down to a thin level, resembling the look safety Tom Zbikowski sported at times last season. The hairdo was perfected while Kuntz was back at home in Indianapolis. It fits not only his personality but the position Kuntz is trying to start at.

"It's a mentality," Kuntz said. "You have to be wild in there. I needed a wild hair cut."

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