Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuitt had an uneven 2013 season, but he still expects to be a first-round pick.
Tuitt, listed at 6-foot-6 and 312 pounds by Notre Dame at the end of the season, had surgery for a sports hernia after the 2012 season, and coach Brian Kelly said Tuitt wasn't 100 percent when the 2013 season started. Tuitt led the Irish with six sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss in 2013, but his sack total was down from 11 in 2012. He did have the same number of tackles both seasons (45).
His weight will be heavily scrutinized at the combine. At one point during the 2013 season, Tuitt was listed at 322 pounds and looked slower than he did in 2012. Whether that was because of the added weight, the recovery from surgery or a combination of both remains a question.
Tuitt did say he was working on his weight while he prepares for the combine and other pre-draft events at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. "I'd like to slim down," he said.
While Tuitt was an end in the Irish's 3-4 defense, he also played some at nose tackle in 2013 when starter Louis Nix III was sidelined by an injury. There are some analysts who see him fitting best at tackle in the NFL. Tuitt seems to think a position change is a possibility.
"I was asked to two-gap [as an end with the Irish], and if you can two-gap well, you can do anything well at the position," he said. " ... I two-gapped against big offensive linemen."
In a two-gap scheme, a defensive lineman lines up directly opposite an offensive lineman and is responsible for controlling the line of scrimmage on either side of that offensive lineman.
Tuitt was asked if he tried to model his game after certain defensive linemen, and he mentioned two ends (Michael Strahan and Justin Tuck) and two tackles (Alan Page and Richard Seymour). Page and Tuck are Notre Dame alums.
"I don't exactly copy any of them, but they're players I enjoyed watching play," he said. "I try to take things from their game and add it to my own."
Tuitt has a good mix of size and speed -- he has been clocked as fast as 4.78 seconds in the 40-yard dash -- but his inconsistency and some lapses in technique as a junior have dropped him on some draft boards. His workouts at the combine will be important in that regard.
It's highly unlikely he can play end in a 4-3 scheme, so if he's to be an end, it's almost certainly going to be for a 3-4 team. His pass-rush skills as a 3-4 end certainly are intriguing and would be his ticket to a possible first-round selection.
Mike Huguenin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.