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Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt still recovering from surgery

Michael Conroy/Associated Press
Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuitt's drop in production has been blamed on his recovery from surgery.

Notre Dame is off this weekend, and Irish coach Brian Kelly said the break in the schedule will help junior defensive end Stephon Tuitt.

Tuitt (6-foot-6, 322 pounds) has not lived up to expectations this season, and Kelly said his recovery from offseason surgery for a sports hernia continues.

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"The surgery that he had has affected his back, it's affected his hip flexors," Kelly told reporters during his weekly teleconference. "Some people dismiss it and say, 'You just had minor surgery.' It's affected a lot of things. This is a big man, and he's really struggled ... with back tightness. He missed a day of practice [last week] because his back locked up.

"We've got to be careful with Stephon. This week we'll work on technique, but we are going to make sure that he's healthy for us going into USC [on Oct. 19]."

Tuitt 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 the offseason surgery.

Tuitt played well in a Sept. 21 victory over Michigan State, with six tackles and a key fourth-quarter sack. For the season, though, he has 18 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. He did have a sack in this past Saturday's win over Arizona State.

Before the season, Tuitt told reporters he was in good shape, had added weight and was ready for a big junior season. But the added weight seems to have cut down on his quickness.

NFL.com draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said of Tuitt, "It's hard to find players with his size, strength and pass-rush ability." His physical tools likely make him a first-round pick when he decides to come out, but his drop in production is a bit worrisome going forward.

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

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