SOUTH BEND – Stephon Tuitt has heard it all.
The Notre Dame defensive end has heard about landing on preseason All-American teams.
The junior has heard about how the defense that finished last year No. 2 in the nation in points allowed could be even better this year, despite losing Heisman runner-up Manti Teo and seniors Kapron Lewis-Moore and Zeke Motta.
He has even heard the concerns about his weight as he enters this season listed at 6-foot-6, 322 pounds.
Tuitt just chooses to ignore these things.
Its irrelevant, because you got to do it all again, Tuitt said of earning preseason honors. To be noticed like that you are blessed, and Im glad I got the opportunity to be (on preseason All-American teams). But you still got to go back out there and do everything again. I take it one day at a time to be better than I was last year.
Tuitt was tight-lipped about the extra weight he put on after playing last season at 303 pounds, only saying, there was no intention or nothing, just working hard. The body did the rest.
Coach Brian Kelly came to Tuitts defense about the extra weight.
Look, the kid had a hernia operation, Kelly said, referencing the surgery Tuitt underwent after last season to relieve the sports hernia the end suffered after the sixth game.
He couldnt do core exercises for over 3 1/2 months. We had to change his whole summer workout. You know what our guys look like. He looks different because he put on some body fat that our guys dont normally put on because he couldnt do some of the workouts our guys do. It wasnt because he decided to eat Cheetos on the couch and not work out.
Were now working really hard to take some of that body fat and bring him down. Hes doing a nice job.
Tuitt did a nice job of following up his 30-tackle, two-sack performance he had as a freshman at the start of last season.
Tuitt had 6 1/2 sacks in the first six games of 2012 and a personal season-high seven tackles against Week 6 opponent Stanford. But he had only 5 1/2 sacks in the final seven games and didnt get to the quarterback against Oklahoma, USC or Alabama.
I dont want to go into last season, Tuitt said when asked how the hernia affected him. Everybody knows that was one of the reasons (for the drop in production).
But this year, Im working hard, my body feels great, Im perfectly in shape. Im ready to go.
Kelly said he has seen signs that Tuitt will be in the form he was in the first half of last season as Saturdays season opener at home against Temple draws near.
Hes stronger physically than he was last year, Kelly said. His volume is at where it was last year. He didnt lose any of his volume.
Defensive line coach Mike Elston also isnt worried about Tuitt, who is entering what could be his final season with the Irish.
Tuitt is rated the No. 13 available player by ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay entering this season.
Stephon has played very hard and is preparing himself to play a lot of football, Elston said. He has a better knowledge of the game, a better understanding of our defense and his technique has improved drastically. He should be much improved from where he was a year ago.