Stephon Tuitt has notched three sacks in six games -- well off his near record-breaking pace last year -- and has slipped on some early draft boards. He hasn't been ineffective, but also hasn't been the dominant force Notre Dame's defense relied on in 2012.
Coach Brian Kelly said Sunday the hernia surgery Tuitt underwent following the 2012 season has continued to affect him this fall, holding him back from being his usual self. With Notre Dame in a bye week, Tuitt is one of the players who will use it to rest up.
"Some people dismiss it and say, well, you know, you just had minor surgery," Kelly said. "Well, it's affected a lot of things. This is a big man, and you know, he's really struggled all week with back tightness. He missed a day of practice because his back locked up."
Kelly mentioned after Notre Dame's Sept. 21 win over Michigan State that Tuitt was finally rounding into shape, another admission that Tuitt's hernia surgery affected him more than Kelly previously let on. A mesh web was inserted into Tuitt's abdomen as part of the procedure, and Kelly earlier said it prevented Tuitt from working out his core in the offseason.
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Tuitt, though, played his best game of the season Saturday against Arizona State -- he had one sack, two quarterback hurries and forced a fumble. He and Prince Shembo looked like the elite pass-rushing tag team they were in 2012, certainly an encouraging sign going forward.
And that's especially encouraging if Kelly's being truthful here, and Tuitt indeed hasn't been 100 percent all year.
"We've got to be careful with Stephon," Kelly said. "This week we'll work on technique, but we are going to make sure that he's healthy for us going into USC."