When talking about the Notre Dame defense on the team that went undefeated in the 2012 regular season, the first two names that will come up are Manti Te’o and Louis Nix III. The next guy that should probably come up in the conversation is Stephon Tuitt, who was a tremendous player for the Irish as a sophomore as a defensive end anddefensive tackle along with Nix and the two of them combined to make Te’o’s and the rest of the defense’s life easier as they caused problems up front for the opposition.
Tuitt was remarkably productive with 22 solo tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, a forced fumble, and a recovery that he took back for 77 yards and a score. The potential for Tuitt to get even better this year is definitely there because he has a lot of areas he could improve technically that would help him dramatically both to produce more for Notre Dame and then projecting forward to the NFL. Tuitt’s production is all the more impressive when considering how ineffective he was with leverage, his ability to anticipate the snap and his first step. His physical tools alone will earn him consideration in the top 100 picks but if he can correct these issues and play with lower pad level consistently and get off the ball better, his production and stock could sky rocket and the potential is there for him to go as high as the first round.
Vitals & Build
Tuitt is listed at 6’6” 303lbs and he seems to carry the weight really well. He only seems to have a little bit of extra weight around his midsection. Tuitt brings terrific athleticism combined with impressive functional strength, but he needs to do more in terms of technique for his athletic gifts to show through more consistently. His motor seems to be good for the most part as he makes a lot of plays on second and third efforts and with his height and length for the position, his physical potential is extremely high.
Snap Anticipation & First Step
Tuitt’s snap anticipation depends entirely on his stance. He routinely uses two; one where his feet are under him commonly seen on obvious running downs and one where has his feet behind him which is most often seen in more obvious passing situations. When Tuitt is anticipating run with his feet under him, his ability to anticipate the snap is mediocre and he is often the last one off the line. The times where he anticipates pass, his snap anticipation is solid and he gets a decent jump. He puts himself at a significant disadvantage when he comes off of the ball late and makes it so he has to work that much harder to get the job done.
In his running stance, his first step is not effective and usually ends up just stepping down. It is better when he is looking for pass and does more to get up the field, but he runs into the same problem regardless of his stance. Tuitt stands almost straight up out of his stance with his first step the vast majority of the time, which is a problem for anyone, but especially for someone of his height. The times he does not are in goal line situations or short yardage when he is diving low to create a pile and stop the run. The other times, Tuitt comes out with a good pad level and he is incredibly effective. If he can do that consistently and make all of that motion and energy go forward instead of going up, the results could be scary.
Tuitt should spend a significant amount of time working on getting a consistent stance that allows him to fire off the ball quickly and enables him to fire out rather than up, which makes him work so much harder than he should have to with his strength and athleticism. If he can just become a more natural bender and be able to play lower, it will have a dramatic impact on his play.
Tuitt has an array of moves that he uses to try to shed blocks. His arm length makes it so he can simply shake opponents off of him at times along with a bull rush, but he also flashes a nice swim move and rip move that help free himself of blocks and make plays on the ball carrier. All of them except the swim move are less effective when he plays too high, but the bull rush most of all. When a player tries to bull rush high, they are only really able to use their arms and legs for power. They are getting minimal benefit from their core, back or shoulders. When Tuitt gets behind his pads and is able to take advantage of all of them, he is incredibly impressive and difficult to stop, which opens up all of his other moves to him as the offensive lineman is at a decided disadvantage. At that point, he is basically playing with them and he can casually pick from his moves which will do the job. If he can do it consistently, he becomes a terror wherever he lines up, but if not, it will continue to merely be flashes of what could be.
Tuitt has questionable instincts at the run and gets fooled going for fakes he is never going to be able to make plays on anyway, which causes him to get out of his lane and open up opportunities for opponents. For example, Tuitt crashing down to on a running play that is going away from him, which then turns into a quarterback bootlegging right where Tuitt would have been standing had he followed through on his assignment.
He has a bad habit of wanting to go outside against the offensive tackle far too often considering his size and strength. Tuitt is certainly an impressive athlete but when he takes himself out of the middle or puts himself in a position where he can be washed out of the play, he is helping the defense. He has explosive power when he wants to use it, so he can be a disruptive player when he goes at the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle to maintain contain rather than trying to speed rush to the outside.
On the plays where he is able to get into the backfield, he needs to do a better job of sinking his hips and breaking down because he ends up having trouble adjusting in small spaces and can have trouble securing the play that is right next to him as a result.
When he does stay inside, he is extremely stout against the run and will not only hold up, but has shown the ability to occasionally collapse the pocket. If he can get more consistent leverage, this would happen more often. He has the ability to hold up against double teams but he can get knocked off balance. Tuitt is a player who can move extremely well down the line and cover a lot of ground but he needs to stay lower to corner more effectively and avoid being taken off of his feet.
Tuitt offers a lot of ability as a pass rusher from both the end and tackle positions. He is a little too in love with rushing outside, but he can be tremendous when he goes from speed to power and can really jolt the offensive tackle into the quarterback in those situations. The reason he likely wants to go outside so much is because of his lack of leverage, which is less of a problem when he can go to the outside with speed. If he can maintain his leverage and pad level, he can be an extremely disruptive player with his bull rush.
The times when Tuitt flashes good pad level and rushes on the outside, he has been virtually unstoppable and treats the offensive lineman trying to block him like a speed bump on his way to the quarterback. Between his speed and getting everything out of his power, tackles are just unable to stop him and struggle to really even get a hand on him. He is so much faster off of the snap, which puts his opponent at a disadvantage and then he has all of his power behind his pads, so he is a freight train on his way to the quarterback with the power to level the quarterback. Whether he rushes inside or from the outside, if he can fire off the ball low and maintain that pad level, he is a scary, scary player.
Tuitt is also a guy who keeps up his effort and has gotten a number of sacks because teammates forced them into him or he cleaned up someone else’s unfinished play and his numbers add up quickly. His effort level and motor are both impressive and are a great reason he should be a viable pass rush threat at the next level.
Tuitt’s best fit is probably as a 5-tecnique defensive end like he is playing in Notre Dame’s defense because he does have so much athleticism and versatility. He has the ideal length and ability to hold up on the outside with the speed and agility to be a pass rusher either from that spot or if teams want to kick him inside as a rush tackle.
At the same time, there is no question that 4-3 teams will be interested in Tuitt as a 4-3 defensive tackle to play as the 3-technique who can shoot gaps and rush the passer speed and power. It is also possible that 4-3 teams could look at him as a 4-3 defensive end as well to play on the left side as a power end but that is the least likely scenario.
|Sat, Aug. 31||vs. Temple|
|Sat, Sept. 7||at Michigan|
|Sat, Sept. 14||at Purdue|
|Sat, Sept. 21||vs. Michigan State|
|Sat, Sept. 28||vs. Oklahoma|
|Sat, Oct. 5||vs. Arizona State|
|Sat, Oct. 19||vs. USC|
|Sat, Oct. 26||at Air Force|
|Sat, Nov. 2||vs. Navy|
|Sat, Nov. 9||at Pittsburgh|
|Sat, Nov. 23||vs. BYU|
|Sat, Nov. 30||at Stanford|
Tuitt has a huge game in Ann Arbor against the Wolverines and especially when he is lined up against Taylor Lewan. The game against Oklahoma is an interesting test because it will put a significant amount of stress on Tuitt’s athleticism with Blake Bell, Damien Williams, and Trey Millard all running threats in addition to the fact that Bell will also be throwing the ball. Stanford in the regular season finale is a huge game for Tuitt as Stanford’s offensive line beat Tuitt up a little bit in last year’s game and seemed to really render him ineffective and took him out of what he liked to do. Not only will he have to face off against David Yankey but the entire Cardinal offensive line brings that same blue color mentality and they are going to make him work.
Right now, Tuitt’s game is similar to that of Adam Carriker because with all the physical tools both guys bring to the table, neither has figured out how to take full advantage of them. Carriker was a tremendous athletic prospect that went 13th overall in the 2007 to the St. Louis Rams. He has been a bust for them, but he has worked himself into having a decent career as is currently on the Washington Redskins as a rotational defensive end. Their measurables are extremely similar and if Tuitt cannot improve on his issues with leverage and getting off the ball on the snap, he could have a similar fate but may not be drafted as high. Just like Carriker, the potential is there for Tuitt to be an impact player and he has the time to improve upon his deficiencies.
Stephon Tuitt is an incredible athlete and was an extremely productive football player for the Fighting Irish this past year, but he is just scratching the surface on what he can be if he puts it all together. From instincts to playing with better pad level to getting off the ball better, Tuitt has a number of options that could help him be a much better player and draft prospect. And if he can improve on all of them, he could go from being a top 100 pick to a first round pick and dynamic player and along with Louis Nix III could form the nastiest defensive line duo in all of college football, who would both still be underclassmen.