Notre Dame Football: Justin Tuck

Tuitt receives second-round NFL grade

December, 26, 2013
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Brian Kelly revealed on Christmas Eve that junior defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt received a second-round grade from the NFL advisory committee, telling IrishIllustrated's Tim Prister that he sat down with Tuitt to discuss options (subscription required), with a decision coming sometime after Saturday's New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

Tuitt has until Jan. 15 to make a decision on the NFL and has most recently said he is "50/50" on whether or not to leave Notre Dame.

Recovering from offseason hernia surgery and dealing with early-season back problems, Tuitt has still managed to be the Irish's most consistent defensive lineman, starting all 12 games and tallying six sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss and 13 quarterback hurries while forcing one fumble and recording a pick-six in Week 2 at Michigan.

The 6-foot-7, 312-pound Monroe, Ga., native has 20 sacks for his career, just 4.5 off Justin Tuck's school record.

The second-round grade is a bit surprising considering the junior is ranked as the No. 8 overall draft-eligible player by Mel Kiper Jr. and No. 11 by Scouts Inc.

Fellow Notre Dame defensive lineman Louis Nix, a redshirt junior, is already NFL-bound after signing with agents. As BlueandGold.com's Lou Somogyi notes (subscription required), the potential return of Tuitt, coupled with quarterback Everett Golson's re-enrollment, could compare to the bowl-season boost the Irish received two winters ago, when Manti Te'o and Tyler Eifert both decided to return to school. Golson and Tuitt, like Te'o and Eifert before them, would be the Irish's unquestioned best players on each side of the ball, though Tuitt's future at Notre Dame remains very much up in the air.

Planning for success: Notre Dame

October, 24, 2013
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Stephon Tuitt hails from Monroe, Ga., an area where all kinds of funky ground-based offenses reign supreme.

"When you've got a bunch of fast people, you've got to get the ball around," Tuitt quipped.

[+] EnlargeAnthony LaCoste
Jonathan Newton / The WashingtonNotre Dame will get a crash course in option football the next two weeks in facing Air Force and Navy.
So forgive the 6-foot-6, 322-pounder for actually looking forward to these next two weeks, when Notre Dame's defense will receive the kind of tests that Michigan, Oklahoma and USC could not give it.

The Irish travel to Colorado Springs, Colo., this Saturday to play Air Force. Next week they will renew their rivalry with Navy at Notre Dame Stadium. If nothing else, they will get a little bit of consistency in practice by having to prepare for option offenses in consecutive weeks.

"Most of my teammates and I have played the option teams before, so we understand what we're about to go into," Tuitt said. "It's going to be a battle, but practicing and going from not playing option teams to option teams is a transition that we're going through right now."

Others might feel differently about it, particularly fellow All-American defensive linemen Louis Nix III, who is battling a sore shoulder suffered in a physical win over USC this past weekend and whose feelings about facing these kind of offenses were described by Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly:

"Option football is not his cup of tea," Kelly said.

Nix, a redshirt junior, is as good as gone to the NFL after the season after passing on a potential high-round NFL opportunity last year. Tuitt reiterated this week that his decision will come after the season, a week after inadvertently saying that he planned to come back for another year.

The junior end did make headlines for other reasons by boosting his potential draft stock this past weekend, though, as he notched two sacks, two quarterback hurries and one pass break-up against the Trojans, earning himself the game ball for his efforts.

It is no coincidence that Tuitt -- who was slow to recover from offseason hernia surgery and has dealt with some back issues -- had his best performance of the season in the game following Notre Dame's bye week.

"The bye week helped a lot," Tuitt said. "It helped me be able to focus more on my body a little bit, get a chance to really get my confidence under me again."

Coming off a 12-sack season a year ago, Tuitt has 6.5 quarterback takedowns through seven games, seven short of Justin Tuck's school single-season record, a mark that will be considerably harder to climb toward in these next two games.

"It's something that you don't see and prepare for, so it's difficult in its preparation, because you have to be so disciplined to face it," Kelly said of the option. "And you know the game of football, especially on defense, is that you want to play a little bit reckless at times. And it really slows you down and forces you to play assignment football and takes away sometimes that skill advantage that you have, that size advantage becomes minimized in some instances, because you have to play so disciplined and play assignment football."

Kelly, for his part, is not complaining about facing the Falcons and Midshipmen back-to-back, even if the scheduling quirk was not of his doing.

"You can ask me how the Democrats and Republicans work together more so than putting the schedule together," Kelly said, adding, "I think this is more of a coincidence than it is, Hey, you know Coach Kelly would like to get both option teams together backtoback weeks. I don't think that conversation ever happened."

Notre Dame helmet stickers: Week 1

September, 1, 2013
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Notre Dame had a number of players stand out in Saturday's 28-6 win over Temple. Here's who stood out above the rest:

Tommy Rees, QB: Rees had a career-high 346 passing yards, completing 16 of 23 passes with three touchdowns and no picks. This was just the kind of start Notre Dame needed to see from Rees, who has endured a barrage of questions throughout his college career but has managed to keep an even keel throughout it all.

TJ Jones, WR: Jones also turned in a career-best effort in recording 138 receiving yards. He caught six passes, made several shifty maneuvers after the catch and looked very much like the go-to threat Brian Kelly kept calling him throughout camp. He also netted 23 yards on three punt returns, something worth noting on a Fighting Irish return unit that has struggled mightily the past three years.

DaVaris Daniels, WR: Like Jones, Daniels also picked up right where he left off. The Irish's two best receivers from the Discover BCS National Championship loss had strong outings Saturday. Daniels notched his first two career touchdowns, both 32 yards, and finished with three catches for 69 yards despite sitting out the second half for precautionary measures because of a groin problem.

Stephon Tuitt, DE: So much for all that weight talk. Tuitt, who put on 19 pounds this offseason after undergoing a hernia operation, picked up right where he left off, notching four total tackles and a sack. Don't be surprised if he makes another run at Justin Tuck's single-season school record of 13.5 sacks.

Tuitt an ESPN.com All-American

August, 16, 2013
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ESPN.com's preseason All-America team has been released, with Notre Dame placing one player on the squad.

Stephon Tuitt makes the team as one of its defensive ends, along with South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney.

Tuitt notched 12 sacks last season, just shy of Justin Tuck's school single-season record of 13.5, and had a 77-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the season opener against Navy in Dublin.

The 6-foot-6, 322-pounder enters his junior season already high on many 2014 NFL draft boards, and another campaign like last year's will only help his stock rise if he chooses to leave school early.

The Pac-12 leads all conferences with eight players on the All-America team, with the SEC right behind with six. Oregon and Alabama each have three players on the team, tied for the most of any school.

Vote for your #UltimateTeam

July, 9, 2013
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ESPN has teamed up with EA Sports to bring you the #UltimateTeam vote. We’ve selected the top 5 offensive and defensive players for 16 of the elite programs in college football history. Which is the Ultimate Team? Round 1 of the voting begins today.

Notre Dame checks in as the No. 14 seed, looking to pull off the upset against No. 3 Ohio State. It's not looking bright early on, as the Buckeyes currently hold a commanding 75 percent of the votes, but you folks can help change that.

Here are the rosters for each school.

NOTRE DAME
Captain: Tim Brown
QB: Brady Quinn
RB: Jerome Bettis
RB: Ricky Watters
WR: Raghib Ismail
WR: Jeff Samardzija
DE: Justin Tuck
DT: Chris Zorich
DT: Bryant Young
LB: Manti Te'o
S: Tom Zbikowski

OHIO STATE
Captain: Archie Griffin
QB: Troy Smith
RB: Eddie George
RB: Beanie Wells
WR: Santonio Holmes
WR: Joey Galloway
DE: Mike Vrabel
LB: A.J. Hawk
LB: Chris Spielman
SS: Malcolm Jenkins
CB: Chris Gamble

Go vote for your picks in each of the eight matchups today.

Video: Justin Tuck is a Notre Dame fan

July, 5, 2013
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Justin Tuck is a fan of Notre Dame football.
Today brings us to one of hte nation's best pass-rushers.

No. 3: Stephon Tuitt, DE

Making the case: Tuitt burst onto the national scene as a sophomore in 2012, making many forget about Aaron Lynch after the other highly-touted class of 2011 end transferred to South Florida in the spring. Tuitt was an ESPN.com All-America this season, recording 12 sacks for the nation's No. 2 scoring defense, 13th-most nationally. He fell just shy of Justin Tuck's school single-season record of 13.5. He finished with 47 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, one pass break-up, one pass defended, nine quarterback hurries, three forced fumbles and one blocked kick. And, of course, there was his 77-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the opener against Navy in Dublin, when the 303-pound end looked more like a tailback, with no one coming near him. The scary part for quarterbacks on the Irish's 2013 schedule? Tuitt deemed this a "learning" year. He flew slightly under-the-national-radar entering 2012, as he missed three games his freshman season due to a missed class and mononucleosis, and did not play against Michigan. But he will likely have a very difficult decision to make if his 2013 production is anything like that of 2012, as Tuitt figures to be one of the nation's most-coveted prospects for the 2014 NFL draft.

Preseason ranking: 4

The countdown

No. 4 Tyler Eifert, TE

No. 5 Zack Martin, LT

No. 6 Theo Riddick, RB

No. 7 Braxston Cave, C

No. 8 Kapron Lewis-Moore, DE

No. 9 Zeke Motta, S

No. 10 Prince Shembo, LB

No. 11 Danny Spond, LB

No. 12 T.J. Jones, WR

No. 13 Everett Golson, QB

No. 14 Cierre Wood, RB

No. 15 Bennett Jackson, CB

No. 16 Tommy Rees, QB

No. 17 DaVaris Daniels, WR

No. 18 Chris Watt, LG

No. 19 George Atkinson III, RB

No. 20 Dan Fox, LB

No. 21 Matthias Farley, S

No. 22 KeiVarae Russell, CB

No. 23 Robby Toma, WR

No. 24 Kyle Brindza, K

No. 25 Chris Brown, WR

Irish Lunch Links

January, 23, 2013
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Little lighter on Te'o today ...
It's never too early to look really, really, really smart. (Or not so smart.) Here are a few fearless predictions for next season, all of which I will stand by through thick and thin ... obviously.

1. Everett Golson will be the Week 1 starter ... but his leash may be even shorter than it was this past season. Tommy Rees is there waiting for the two-minute drill when called upon, but with Andrew Hendrix seasoned another year and with Gunner Kiel's redshirt season now out of the way, coach Brian Kelly is quick to insert a new guy whenever the opportunity presents itself. Nonetheless, Golson will enter spring and fall camp as the No. 1 guy and will emerge from both as the winner.

[+] EnlargeEverett Golson
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillEverett Golson will begin the season as the starter, but there's plenty of competition behind him.
2. Notre Dame will make a BCS bowl game, but yes, will lose a few regular-season games. The schedule is easier than this past year's, but trips to Michigan and Stanford certainly present big challenges, not to mention a number of potential trap games that almost tripped the Irish up in 2012. The Irish had ridiculously strong leadership in 2012 that proved to be the difference in a number of close contests. Despite having what would appear to be a more talented team in 2013, it is asking an awful lot of this group to run the table for a second straight season.

3. Stephon Tuitt will break Justin Tuck's sack record and have a very tough decision to make at season's end. The defensive end and his mother have said in published reports that they aren't thinking about an NFL future just yet, but that will become harder to avoid after Tuitt takes yet another step in 2013. Following a 12-sack sophomore campaign that Tuitt deemed a "learning year," the 6-foot-6, 303-pounder will add a couple of more, breaking Tuck's single-season Irish record of 13.5 and becoming a universally accepted first-round pick should he choose to enter the draft after his junior year.

4. Greg Bryant will be the No. 1 RB by midseason. There is a logjam in Notre Dame's backfield, but none are all that proven. George Atkinson III and Cam McDaniel have performed well in complementary roles, but neither have handled anything close to the workload that a No. 1 back requires. While the carries will likely be divvied up among those two, USC transfer Amir Carlisle and redshirt freshman William Mahone, Bryant's size and speed fit the mold of an every-down guy, and his first year will go a long way in proving that he is the future answer in the Notre Dame backfield.

5. Zack Martin, Chris Watt, Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese will be the returning fifth-year guys. I suppose this would be a bold prediction if I gave you an announcement date. But considering we didn't officially hear about last year's fifth-year guys until the spring, I won't be holding my breath.

Irish Lunch Links

November, 21, 2012
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Not bad, Columbia.
We're two days removed from Friday the 13th, and no bad news has come for Notre Dame.

That wasn't the case three months ago, when a hastily called news conference was set up the morning of April 13 to announce the decision of Aaron Lynch to transfer. The move wasn't without its drama — Lynch had been sent home days earlier, his mother pleaded on Twitter with former Irish lineman Justin Tuck to convince her son to stay — but when the dust cleared, Lynch was heading closer to home.

The Cape Coral, Fla., native will play for Irish alum Skip Holtz at South Florida, where he will look to build on a freshman All-America season that saw him start six games and lead the Irish in sacks (5.5) and quarterback hurries (14). He also had 33 tackles, including seven for a loss, and forced one fumble.

The 6-foot-6, 270-pound Lynch has first-round NFL talent, getting to the quarterback with ease and capable of making a game-changing play at any given moment. He was expected to key an Irish pass rush that would ease the burden of breaking in two new starters in the secondary.

But if one position group can handle a defection, it is the defensive line. Stephon Tuitt is more versatile and, possibly, more valuable than Lynch, able to play inside or out. Kapron Lewis-Moore is back for one more year and a proven starter, and Kona Schwenke emerged in the middle this spring, creating the potential for a very strong interior with him and Louis Nix splitting snaps. Lynch also picked up six penalties last season, mostly after the whistle, and he didn't exactly apologize for them when given the chance.

While the energy, athleticism and overall threat of Lynch on the field can't be replaced, the Irish do have plenty of talent that is capable of filling the void and still producing a strong pass rush this season.

Irish Lunch Links

June, 13, 2012
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Happy Hump Day.

Irish Lunch Links

June, 5, 2012
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Somewhere, David Puddy weeps.

Aaron Lynch saga comes to end

April, 23, 2012
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It began with a conspicuous absence before the ninth spring practice, was quelled by a return from an extended Easter break, and was made official with a hastily called news conference Friday the 13th.

Even then, after Notre Dame and Aaron Lynch announced their divorce, the drama didn't slow, the height of it coming Thursday night when Aaron's mother, Alice, asked former Irish standout Justin Tuck on Twitter to talk her son into staying at Notre Dame.

On Monday, the curtains were finally closed on the Lynch saga, ending with South Florida's announcement that the star defensive end will be added to the Bulls' 2012 roster. Lynch is expected to finish out the spring semester at Notre Dame before enrolling at his new school, and he will have to sit out the upcoming season because of transfer rules. The Cape Coral, Fla., native will play for Notre Dame graduate Skip Holtz, who, of course, is the son of former Irish coach Lou Holtz.

"With Aaron originally being from Florida, we're very familiar with the kind of player he is," Skip Holtz said in a release. "Aaron had a great freshman season at Notre Dame, and we're excited to welcome him into the Bulls family."

The official exit of Lynch comes two days after the Irish closed their spring season, one that was supposed to be dominated by quarterback talk while the defensive line -- powered by Lynch -- quietly took care of business and eased the transition for a pair of new cornerbacks.

Instead, Lynch added a new wrinkle to the spring storylines, one the Irish hoped to avoid. The 6-foot-6, 270-pounder is taking his team-leading 5.5 sacks and 14 quarterback hurries, his seven tackles for loss and his vast potential down to South Florida, which didn't even have a football team until 1997. He leaves the other two-thirds of the Irish's young, talented front -- Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix -- behind, allowing fifth-year senior Kapron Lewis-Moore to slide back into a starting role.

In the days after Lynch's departure, coach Brian Kelly called the line's transition seamless. Manti Te'o, whom Lynch called his big brother on the team, said then that he was surprised by Lynch's decision. It took 10 days for the talented defensive end to land at a new home -- albeit one that seemed likely from the start of this episode -- but Monday served as the final act of the Aaron Lynch narrative, the freshman All-American leaving the nation's third-winningest program for one getting ready to celebrate its Sweet 16.

Blue-Gold game rules

April, 18, 2012
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The only thing traditional about the rules for Saturday's Blue-Gold spring game will be the length of the field and the time of the contest. And even that last part provides a caveat.

The game will consist of four 15-minute periods, but the clock will run for the second half. Each possession will start on the offense's 35-yard line, each punt will be fair caught and there will be no kickoffs.

The defense can only bring pressure on third downs on snaps from inside the 20-yard line, which may hurt the unit as it tries to accumulate points in a battle against an offense that has the same goal as any other game.

Four points will be awarded to the defense for a stop inside the offense's 50-yard line, and the unit will receive seven points if it forces a turnover there. The defense will get two points for a stop on the other side of the 50, three for a takeaway there. A field goal attempt will also earn the defense a single point.

Former Irish defensive end Justin Tuck will be the game's honorary captain and speak to the team Friday.

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