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Notre Dame

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Notre Dame photo
Led by likely future NFL linemen Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix, Notre Dame’s defense is rated as the nation’s second best by Athlon Sports.

Irish defensive line strives to be No. 1


– Notre Dame defensive line coach Mike Elston has lofty goals for his unit.

“The expectations are that we are going to be the best defensive line in the country, bar none, no one is going to be better than us,” Elston said. “We are going to recruit that way. We are going to coach that way. We are going to develop that way.

“Not that I’m saying we are the best defensive line in the country. I’m not saying that. We are making huge strides, and I think that is a big part of what we have been able to accomplish by recruiting that defensive line.”

Entering this season, the Irish’s defensive line is expected to play a big role in the team’s success, and the expectations are even higher for defensive end Stephon Tuitt and nose guard Louis Nix III.

Tuitt and Nix were named preseason first-team All-Americans by Athlon Sports, and they lead a unit Athlon dubbed the second best in the nation.

The linemen are also being predicted to carry on their stellar play in the NFL. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. rated Nix the seventh-best pro prospect for the 2014 draft and he has Tuitt ranked No. 13.

But Elston said the topic of getting ready for an NFL career is not talked about with Tuitt or Nix.

“We talk about what they need to work on,” Elston said. “We are very honest with them, and there are certainly things that they know they need to work on to improve our defense.”

Tuitt and Nix did plenty to improve last year’s defense, which entered the BCS championship game against Alabama ranked first in scoring defense (10.3 points per game), No. 6 in total defense (286.3 yards per game), and No. 4 in rushing defense (92.4).

The 6-foot-6, 303-pound Tuitt led the Irish in tackles for loss (13) and sacks (12) and had 47 tackles. The 6-3, 325-pound Nix had 50 tackles, 7 1/2 tackles for loss and two sacks.

Both players will have the option to play for Notre Dame for one more season as Nix, who didn’t play as a freshman, enters his senior year and Tuitt enters his junior year. But if they sustain or improve their production from last season, Tuitt and Nix will likely be leaving the Irish with a year of eligibility remaining.

“We don’t talk to them about improving their status as an NFL prospect,” Elston said. “Although, if they improve our defense by playing better, they are going to improve that naturally. We just focus on them and their strengths and weaknesses and try to improve those.”

The main area Elston wants Tuitt and Nix to improve is stamina.

“Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix need to play the entire game,” Elston said. “They are impact players, and we want them to play the entire game. The need to improve on being able to take more snaps during the game. That would be the big-picture thing for them to improve on.”