SOUTH BEND – Notre Dames projected starting defensive linemen are each working on different things during spring practice.
Defensive end Stephon Tuitt is getting over a sports hernia that slowed him during the second half of last season. Nose guard Louis Nix III is becoming more of a vocal leader and refining little things in his game. And defensive end Sheldon Day is getting ready for an increased role as the expected replacement for last seasons starting defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore, who graduated.
Defensive line coach Mike Elston has liked what he has seen after nine spring practices from those three and the other linemen, a group that includes former Bishop Dwenger standout Tony Springmann.
I think we are progressing really well with the D-line, Elston said after Mondays practice.
Tuitt returned to practice last week after missing the first part of the spring while recovering from surgery. The 6-foot-6, 322-pound junior started to feel the effects of the hernia in the sixth or seventh week last season, Elston said.
Tuitt had 28 tackles, eight tackles for loss and 8 1/2 sacks in the first seven games last season. He had 19 tackles, five tackles for loss and 3 1/2 sacks in the last six games.
I think it affected him a tremendous amount, Elston said of Tuitts injury. His production went down. His confidence in his play went down. Thats something we need to work on making sure we can get back this fall, working through the spring.
Nix doesnt have anything big to work on during the spring after the 6-2, 347-pound senior finished last season with 50 tackles, 7 1/2 tackles for loss and two sacks.
Ive been a coach for 14 years now, 13 years in Division I, hes one of the most ferocious competitors, Elston said. Hes working on the day-to-day things that will make that even higher on Saturday.
Day has continued to impress Elston. Last year, the 6-2, 286-pound sophomore had 23 tackles, 3 1/2 tackles for loss and two sacks in a reserve role, and he looks ready to move into the starting lineup.
Hes a student of the game. Its important to him, Elston said. Thats not just in football, its his whole life. Hes just got it all put together. It starts with his home life. His mom does a great job with him, and I couldnt be happier with him. He is a great kid to be around, and he just does everything that we ask him to do. Hes coachable.
When he doesnt do it right, we tell him, and he fixes it.
Springmann could also see his role increase this season. The 6-5, 284-pound junior had 11 tackles, two for loss and one sack last season.
The Dwenger product will continue to provide Notre Dame depth at all three defensive line positions.
He played nose. He played both end positions. I dont see that changing, Elston said. I see his role increasing and continuing to play a lot of different positions.