Tuitt, Martin getting reinforcements on lines

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- A normally reserved pass-rushing menace, Stephon Tuitt had trouble containing a smile when asked if he was eager to see what Notre Dame's defense could do with his two right-hand men next to him at full-strength.

"When that time comes," the 6-foot-6½, 312-pound defensive end said, "it comes."

A four-year starter at left tackle, Zack Martin gave less ground when asked about being the lone veteran along the Irish's first-team offensive line last week.

"I never really thought about it during the game," the two-time captain said, "because we've got guys getting reps in practice and coaches throwing different guys in there and getting different groups in there just to be ready."

In any event, Tuitt and Martin are expected to get reinforcements Saturday at Pitt. Sheldon Day and Louis Nix III should join Tuitt up front defensively in some capacity, while Chris Watt practiced this week at left guard.

For the meat of Notre Dame's roster, the Irish's biggest strengths entering this season, the relative health of several starters will provide a welcome reprieve for units that have experienced more than their fair share of attrition so far in 2013.

"We put together some good football against some very good offensive football teams, and never getting those three guys on the field at one time says a lot to the group coming together," coach Brian Kelly said of the defensive line.

That side of the ball has dealt with more hits recently, and it is, in some sense, ironic to see Tuitt as the most healthy defensive lineman since the Irish's last bye week, nearly a month ago.

Tuitt was slow to adjust this season after surgery for a sports hernia, and he dealt with a back issue in the first month, as well. Around the time Tuitt was just starting to shape back into form, Day suffered a high ankle sprain Sept. 14 at Purdue that kept him out for all but the next three games.

Then came the Oct. 19 game against rival USC, with Tuitt earning the game ball after a two-sack night, a night in which Nix suffered a minor shoulder injury.

Then came Nix's knee tendinitis, with a small meniscus tear working its way into the diagnosis earlier this week, with Kelly saying that the tendinitis is the bigger issue. PRP treatment already has taken place, and a minor operation to clear up the knee will follow, likely after the season.

Day also happened to return to full-strength against the Trojans, only to re-aggravate his ankle this past Saturday against Navy.

"We go out every week, and we play and we practice" Tuitt said. "Stuff happens. It's football. Other than that, we just do the best we can do."

The offensive line's depth has not taken quite the same hit, despite losing right guard Christian Lombard for the season because of back surgery after the USC game. Watt's PCL tear at Air Force kept him out of the Navy game, leaving Conor Hanratty to make his first career start, at left guard. Martin was the lone elder statesman this past Saturday among a group that had Steve Elmer making his second career start at right guard, with first-year starers Nick Martin and Ronnie Stanley manning their regular spots at center and right tackle, respectively.

Martin likely will get his tag-team partner Watt back against the Panthers, though he was impressed with what the newcomers brought to the table in their first taste of extended action.

"Those guys, it's all about preparations," Martin said. "They did it the right way, and they do it the right way. That's the biggest thing we talk about as a team and as an offensive line group, is if you prepare the right way, when your number is called, not only are we confident in you, but you should be confident in yourself."