Thursday, December 20, 2007

2007 Review: Defensive Line

Entering the 2007 season, the position group I was most concerned about was the D Line. I knew we had a solid football player in Trevor Laws, but beyond that, I saw an awful lot of question marks, no depth to speak of, and I was concerned about the loss of 2 productive football players from last year's squad -- Derek Landri and Victor Abiamiri. Combine that with a switch to a 3-4 look where the D Line in many cases has to take on a double team and hold the point of attack, and I was extremely concerned. While this season certainly provided its share of disappointments, the play of the D Line was actually a pleasant surprise for the most part. Though the Irish did get gashed several times against the rush, that had at least as much, if not more, to do with the LB play than it did the D Line. First, I think Jappy Oliver did a fantastic job with this group this year. To a man, I believe just about everyone improved from last year to this year, some dramatically. Second, Defensive Coordinator Corwin Brown made some adjustments in scheme on the fly this season to help his players out and play to their strengths -- an attribute that has been lacking in recent Irish Defensive Coordinators. Third, there was some real fire and tenacity from the players on the D Line this year. Often hung out to dry by a struggling offense and kept on the field far too long, I really think this group kept fighting and scratching and clawing, especially when it would have been very easy to give in. Let's take a look at some of the individuals in this group:

Trevor Laws: Hands down, unquestioned MVP of the Irish this season. Trevor Laws was the heart and soul of the defense. He went from being a nice, solid player as a senior to an unblockable dominant and disruptive force as a 5th year. His statistics were incredible, but what stood out most to me was his motor. He never stopped -- spinning, bull rushing, swimming, he did anything and everything to get to the ball. I said it during the season and it bears repeating -- the effort and passion that Trevor displayed this year on and off the field set the gold standard for the next generation of Irish D Linemen. His example will be referred to for a long time to come.

Pat Kuntz: Coming into the season, when we learned that Pat Kuntz would be starting at NG in the 3-4, I sort of raised a concerned eyebrow. I knew Pat would give 110%, but I just didn't think he could hold the fort there every down. I was wrong. Pat Kuntz was not only stout at NG, he did more than simply hold the point of attack. He made several notable plays, including his uncanny knack of knocking down passes. Pat has everything you look for in a defensive player and I expect him to be a leader on this unit in 2008. Looking ahead, it would not surprise me to see Pat slide out to DE next season into Trevor's slot on the line.

Ian Williams: Playing a true freshman significant minutes at NG is not usually a prescription for success. While Ian struggled at times and lost his share of battles, he was a high motor player who also won his share of battles. He was also extremely productive making tackles for his position, another indicator of a guy playing with high intensity. I think Ian's development (along with the arrival of reinforcements) will allow the Irish to start Ian at NG next season and keep Pat Kuntz on the field at DE. I can't wait to see how productive Ian can be once he adds some more size and strength to his frame.

Justin Brown and Dwight Stephenson: These 2 guys for the most part manned the DE spot opposite Trevor Laws. For much of the season, they struggled, as neither are really suited perfectly for the Irish defense. If you watch the film, teams often attacked their side of the line in the running game, often with success. Realizing it was likely his final opportunity to make his mark in football, Dwight Stephenson did play hard and he competed. Justin Brown will likely be back for another year and will battle for playing time at DE. Justin needs to do a couple of things to put himself in position to have a more productive 2008: 1. Get bigger and stronger. Justin was a thin guy when he came to ND and he still needs to add significant bulk and strength in my view. 2. Stay healthy. 3. Go 110% every play. Justin has talent, but he just seems to drift occasionally. I am not saying he takes plays off, but it appears that he doesn't bring the level of tenacity he needs to bring on every single play. Some plays he goes harder than others.

Kallen Wade/Derell Hand/Paddy Mullen: We really didn't see enough of any of these guys to form much of an impression. I will say that with what I believe is the best DL haul the Irish have brought in in the last decade coming, they better make their move in the spring. I still believe Kallen can be a very good player in this defense, but he needs to get much bigger and stronger. Derell Hand looked completely and utterly lost and overmatched physically and mentally when he did play this year. I didn't see enough of Paddy to form an opinion.

This will be an interesting offseason for the Irish D Line. Any time you are replacing a talent and a leader such as Trevor Laws, there will be uncertainty. Who will step up? As I said, I believe Pat Kuntz will lead this unit next season, but I also know that Ian Williams is a guy who absolutely burns to win and is crushed when the Irish lose. I also know that there will be some real talented recruits showing up shortly. I am looking forward to seeing how it all shakes out.
Your thoughts???

Next Up: Linebackers

No comments: