SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuitt is ready to do his best impersonation of nose guard Louis Nix III.
No, the 6-foot-6, 322-pound junior from Monroe, Ga., isn’t trying to take the place of Nix as the team’s most entertaining interview. Tuitt is quiet and appears uncomfortable talking with the media.
Tuitt is at home anywhere on the line, though, whether he is getting after quarterbacks from his usual position at defensive end or moving inside against the option to clog things up for Notre Dame (5-2), especially with the 357-pound Nix nursing a sore shoulder.
And as coach Brian Kelly explained about Nix: “Option football is not his cup of tea.”
That’s fine with Tuitt.
“My job is to be in the middle, to be a Louis Nix,” he said.
Tuitt has shown he can be disruptive against option teams. He had four tackles, including two for losses, and a 77-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the season opener against Navy in 2012. As a freshman a year earlier, Tuitt had seven tackles and two quarterback hurries against Navy and five tackles against Air Force. Tuitt said he played against a lot of option teams in high school.
“So I’m a little more comfortable than some of the members on our team who didn’t go against the option as much,” he said.
Another concern for Air Force (1-6) on Saturday is that Tuitt is finally healthy. Through six games last season, Tuitt had 28 tackles, including 8.5 sacks. But he was slowed by a sports hernia in the second half of the season, finishing with 47 tackles, including 12 sacks. That was just shy of the school record of 13.5 set by Justin Tuck in 2003.
Tuitt underwent surgery in the spring for the sports hernia. After Tuitt showed up noticeably heavier in August there was speculation that perhaps he had let reports he might be an NFL first-round draft pick go to his head and hadn’t put in the work during the offseason. Tuitt would not discuss the weight gain.
Kelly explained Tuitt added weight because he was unable to do certain exercises for nearly 4 months after the surgery.
“It wasn’t because he decided to eat Cheetos on the couch and not work out,” Kelly said.
Kelly said earlier this month that Tuitt was still feeling the effects of the surgery, saying it affected his back, hip flexors and “a lot of things.”
Through three games, Tuitt had four tackles and a sack. In the next three, he had 14 tackles and two sacks. After a week off, Tuitt had a career-high seven tackles, two sacks, a pass breakup and two hurries against USC last week.
“It was a challenge because I had to get everything back, get everything back strong again,” he said. “But right now, I’m better than ever. My game is coming all together.”