This article is a part of our 2012 Player Projections series. During the summer months Blue & Gold Illustrated will be evaluating each player on Notre Dame’s projected two-deep depth chart — reviewing their careers to this point and discussing expectations for the year to come.
Sophomore Stephon Tuitt is one of Notre Dame's most physically imposing players.
Stephon Tuitt — DE
Height: 6-foot-6 Weight: 295
Experience: 9 appearances, 3 starts
Stats: 30 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 tackles for loss
Stephon Tuitt started turning heads the moment he arrived on campus last summer. During their first day on the practice field, he stole the thunder from his highly-touted counterpart Aaron Lynch as the most physically imposing new face on the field. Now, with Lynch gone, Tuitt will need to play an even larger role in bringing the escalated athleticism that the young group promised last season.
Tuitt doesn’t supply the same flash as Lynch, but despite missing most of the final month of the season he put together an equally impressive freshman season in 2011. He had five less sacks than Lynch, but only three less tackles and showed that he could play virtually anywhere along the defensive front. He also played in three fewer games.
Irish head coach Brian Kelly left him at home when Notre Dame traveled to Purdue for missing class, and he sat out the final two regular season games while fighting mononucleosis. Kelly said Tuitt owned up to his mistakes early in the year and showed himself to have leadership potential for the future.
“I’m doing all the things I’m supposed to do off the field and also doing the things I’m supposed to do on the field. It just all made me a better man and a better football player,” Tuitt said during an interview this spring
Notre Dame is counting on their young sophomore standout to be a playmaker on the defensive side of the ball this year. Tuitt will step into a full-time starting role with more experience than any of his fellow defensive ends except for fifth-year senior Kapron Lewis-Moore.
He will be expected to be a player that must be accounted for by the opposing offense on a regular basis. With another year of experience and added strength he should become more of a presence in the backfield this season, adding to his two sacks and three tackles for loss from a year ago. That could go a long way in helping out the question marks in the secondary if Tuitt can keep quarterbacks from getting too comfortable.
He should be able to help add pressure to the pass rush as an interior lineman during obvious passing down situations when Notre Dame is in its nickel defense. Tuitt had success with this role as a freshman, and sliding inside will provide room for speedier pass rushers on the edge in certain cases.
What’s a Good Season?
The clichéd sophomore slump exists for a reason. It’s easy for a player who finds success in his first year to rest on his laurels and forget that his job will only get harder as opponents get more familiar with him. Tuitt has the potential for a good year if he has sidestepped that trap as he said he would do this spring.
“You’ve got to make sure that you don’t think that you’ve arrived,” said defensive line coach Mike Elston, who will undoubtedly be doing his best in the next month to make sure Tuitt doesn’t feel that way.
“We expect them to be better than they were a year ago — and not just on Saturday,” he said of his young group. “They’ve got to work that way. In practice they’ve got to be improved in everything they do — their attitude, the way they approach it in every single drill.”
If Tuitt can deliver on the practice field he should be able to emerge as the team’s top lineman, one of the defense’s future leaders and a player whose name resonates on the national level. That’s a lot to ask of a sophomore.