PITTSBURGH -- As an avalanche of injuries slammed Notre Dame's defensive line in recent weeks, Stephon Tuitt has not only stayed healthy -- but he's also looked like the elite defensive end most thought he'd be in 2013.
There hasn't been a point this season when Tuitt, nose guard Louis Nix and defensive end Sheldon Day have all been healthy. Tuitt wasn't 100 percent in September, as the aftereffects of sports hernia surgery limited him to just two sacks in five games. Day injured his ankle in Week 3 at Purdue and re-injured it Saturday against Navy. Nix missed Notre Dame's last two games with knee tendinitis and a slight meniscus tear.
But before Notre Dame faced back-to-back option offenses, its pass rush began to round into form. Tuitt terrorized Arizona State, notching one sack, two quarterback hurries and one forced fumble. Against USC, Tuitt broke up a pass, had two quarterback hurries and two sacks.
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"It was just working hard in the weight room, working close with my nutritionist, close to the weight room coaches, getting my flexibility, my strength, my speed back," Tuitt said. "Overall, just getting my confidence back."
Tuitt's turnaround certainly is welcome news for the banged-up Irish front seven, but it's also promising given how his production slowed in the latter half of the 2012 season. After recording 8 1/2 sacks in Notre Dame's first seven games last fall, Tuitt had just 2 1/2 in the the final six -- and in Notre Dame's final four games, he had one sack and no quarterback hurries.
"Well, last year I played with a sports hernia," Tuitt laughed when asked what's different in 2013. "This year I'm healthy, I'm going out there and getting better and better each week."
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Tuitt rarely comes off the field, which is good news for the Irish since there's not exactly enough healthy depth to allow him to get many extended breathers. That's put plenty of pressure on Tuitt, but he said it's a welcome challenge.
"I do whatever it takes for my teammates," Tuitt said. "If that means going in and playing all the snaps, it doesn't matter to me."