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Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt looks ready to break out

Carlos Osorio / Associated Press
Notre Dame DE Stephon Tuitt had six tackles and a sack last week against Michigan State.

For a guy considered a potential All-American and first-round pick, Notre Dame junior defensive end Stephon Tuitt hadn't done much through the first three games of the season. Heck, his numbers weren't that good for a journeyman college end: four tackles and a sack.

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Tuitt remedied that in Game 4, coming up with six tackles and a key fourth-quarter sack in a 17-13 win over Michigan State. Coach Brian Kelly noticed the difference, telling reporters afterward, "You could see he's really starting to come on."

Tuitt (6-feet-6, 322 pounds) had a big sophomore campaign last season. He led the Irish with 12 sacks -- second-most in school history in a season -- and added 47 tackles, three forced fumbles, nine quarterback hurries and a blocked kick. But his production dropped off in the second half of the season, when he had only 3.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss in the final six games, partly as a result of an injury that required offseason surgery for a sports hernia.

Tuitt also has not been consistent with his fundamentals and sometimes plays too high.

Before the season, Tuitt told reporters he was in good shape, had added weight and was ready for a big junior season. But through the first three games, he didn't play well. He was dominated by Michigan's offensive tackles in a loss to the Wolverines. Kelly said it was partly because Tuitt was not ready when the season began.

"He couldn't cut loose at times," Kelly said. "In camp, he dealt with a strain in the same area, where he struggled at times being able to cut loose. He's feeling great. His volume is up, his reps are up."

Tuitt's next test comes Saturday against a veteran Oklahoma line that has strong bookend tackles in juniors Tyrus Thompson (6-5, 320) and Daryl Williams (6-6, 321), both of whom are seen as potential draft picks, though not as high as Tuitt.

Before the season, NFL.com draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said of Tuitt: "It's hard to find players with his size, strength and pass-rush ability." Tuitt's task now is to start showing some consistency.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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