Last season, Stephon Tuitt put himself on the map with a breakout sophomore season. While his numbers tailed off down the stretch, Tuitt was near the top of the NCAA leaders in sacks halfway through the season, en route to a still mighty impressive team leading 12 quarterback take-downs. For a 3-4 defensive end that was one of the best run stuffers in the country, there’s not much to complain about considering it was Tuitt’s first season as an every-down contributor.
While most of us just assumed the slow down in production was a combination of defenses adjusting and Tuitt wearing down, Brian Kelly revealed earlier this spring that it was a sports hernia that hampered Tuitt, an injury the rising junior had surgery on to help correct this offseason.
“He’s already moving really well,” Kelly said a few weeks ago, when updating the media on his recovery. “He feels so much better. He had some restriction in that groin-hip flexor area where he was really restricted and really running out. So we said, ‘You know what? Let’s get it done. Let’s not wait on it.’ It’s something we may have managed, but we want to get him 100 percent.”
Tuitt is back contributing in practice, getting developmental reps while gingerly working back from the procedure. But the break in training also gave Tuitt a chance to add some bulk, a number that might actually be under-reported at 322 pounds.
“With the surgery, he wasn’t working out and he put on a little weight,” Kelly explained, pegging the defensive end at a number closer to Louis Nixian 330 pounds. “Coach Longo will get him down to what we believe is a better number, and he knows that too. He’s practiced really well, and I’m pleased with the way he’s moving. He’s been able to cut loose and really do the things that kind of encumbered him last year with that hernia.”
It’s amazing to consider that Tuitt played “encumbered” last season. While he didn’t pass former Irish great Justin Tuck’s sack record after being shut out in the season’s last two ball games, he still performed at a remarkably high level, especially in the scheme Bob Diaco employs.
But as we get an idea of what the 2013 defense has in store for opposing offenses, it’s amazing to think that Tuitt will likely be playing at least a full 20 pounds heavier than he did last season. That’s downright scary.
“I think he’s going to be a natural 315,” Kelly said, up from the 295 he was listed at last season. “He’s just a big fella. He’s a little heavy right now, but we’ll get him down.”
That combination of size and speed is likely to produce another All-American caliber season. While Jadeveon Clowney has already started to cement his legendary status with his helmet-popping hit against Michigan running back Vincent Smith, Tuitt might actually be flying under the radar.