How do you replace Trevor Laws?

Watching Saturday's practice was sure a treat for anyone who likes football. Pads popping, the exuberance, the fights, the big plays, the challenges….all the sights and sounds that make football great. But as excited as one would be watching the Irish offense come to life on Saturday, I kept thinking one thing. How will the Irish replace Trevor Laws?

When you think of it, the numbers are just mind-blowing.

112 tackles!

Think about that for a minute.

True freshman Ian Williams was the next closest D-lineman to Trevor Laws in tackles in 2007 with 45, and he didn't even start most games. The next guy on the stat sheet at D-line? Pat Kuntz (42), and he's not even enrolled at Notre Dame currently. The next guy? Justin Brown (30), who played in all 12 games and started five, logged just 30 tackles? Guess who was next in total tackles on the team? Ambrose Wooden at 27…..a part-time starter at defensive back who was not always known for physical play.

It's not just the tackles that will be tough to replace, it's the attitude Laws brought to the team. His effort was contagious to an often out-manned defense just trying to fight, crawl, scratch and survive the numerous explosive offenses Notre Dame faced last season.

Watching the Irish offense run the ball against the Notre Dame front on Saturday was just another reminder that the Irish still have a big hole to fill to replace Laws. Even with Laws the Irish surrendered an eye-popping 195 yards rushing per game. So how can the Irish coaching staff replace such a disruptive force in Trevor Laws?

"What has to happen is the other guys have to play at a higher level to make up for one guy," said Irish defensive coordinator Corwin Brown when asked that question after Monday's practice. "You have to get higher play from the nose, the tackle, the end…..the secondary has to play at a higher level.

"We relied on Trevor so much. It was almost like we just played to his strength because he was our biggest playmaker on defense. What we did was kind of allowed him to do things, where now we'll need more plays from a larger number of guys. That's how you do that. Everybody else picks up their game. Coaches pick up our game, then we'll be better."

Irish defensive line coach Jappy Oliver agreed with Brown.

"You don't," Oliver said when asked the same question about replacing Laws. "You just convince the guys that ‘it's your time now. It's your time.' It's time to step up, take the bull by the horns and kind of go with it, and just keep pushing because the past is the past."

The past is the past, but so far the Irish don't appear to have anyone in the future with the ability and productivity of Laws currently practicing this spring.

"You see Ian (Williams) playing well," Brown said when asked if anyone is stepping up as he suggested. "You kind of see flashes from Emeka (Nwankwo) and some of those guys, (Morrice) Richardson, and guys like that do well. Honestly, some of those guys didn't make those plays last year. Morrice didn't play with the motor he's playing with now. That's a plus. That's a positive. You hope it becomes infectious and a lot of guys will start doing it."

Oliver also stated Williams has shown at times that he's a force to be reckoned with inside.

"From the technical standpoint, he's steady," Oliver said of Williams. "He's being consistent. But I'd like to see Ian playing with more passion. What happens is if you have some success, now the onus is on you and you can turn it loose more. You can show that passion and hopefully everyone else sees that, because we don't have enough of that right now."

Kuntz does play with effort and passion, but as mentioned earlier, he's not practicing with the Irish this spring, and the Irish don't have a lot of other candidates at defensive end to replace him. One player who has shown some promise thus far is sophomore Emeka Nwankwo. Nwankwo mentioned to us in an earlier story published on Irish Eyes that he learned a lot about intensity from watching Laws from the sidelines last year.

"I hope so. I hope he's listening to what he's saying," Oliver said of Nwankwo. "Unless you're going to do it, there's no reason to talk about it. Hopefully they've been watching, and now, when I say it's your time, all those things you talked about seeing Trevor do, okay, let's go. It's time for you to do it.

"He's done some good things," said Oliver of Nwankwoo. "I've noticed like when we go out to Irish Eyes, initially he was jumping around blocks, now I see him being a little more patient and still shedding, just being more consistent, which is my theme song to all of them, being more consistent. I don't want to see flashes. I'm seeing too much of that….flashes here and flashes there. I'd like see some consistent play because those are the ones we count on."

One player that the Irish need to step up at defensive end is senior Justin Brown. Brown certainly has the athletic ability to be a solid performer, and did have record 3.5 tackles for loss and a sack last season, but both coaches suggested he still has a ways to go when it comes to upping the intensity on the field.

"I don't know if there's a level where I'm looking for him to reach, but the thing I'd like for Justin, and all of our older guys to do, is to play 100 miles an hour," Corwin Brown said. "Going hard as they can, with a good motor….that's what we want to see with everybody, but particular our older guys."

"Flashes, not enough…..nowhere near enough," Oliver said of Justin Brown. "I'm being totally honest when I say that, because I don't tell you anything I don't tell them."

The Irish do have some talented freshmen reporting this summer who may be able to help, and many believe Kuntz will also be back this summer, and that would definitely help. But the one weakness on this defense continues to be figuring out how to replace the production of Laws last fall. Like I said, even with Laws, this unit struggled against the run. All the Irish defenders will have to up their game to replace Laws, and it doesn't sound like that is currently happening at this point.


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