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Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly says Tuitt 'stumbled' on NFL question

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly helped defensive end Stephon Tuitt take back the impression that the junior has made a decision about his future.

In an exclusive interview with the university's student newspaper, the Observer, on Wednesday, Tuitt said he would return for his senior season instead of entering the NFL draft.

"I'm coming back next year," Tuitt told The Observer. "I'm a junior. I still have one year."

Kelly tried to explain to reporters how the miscommunication happened about the projected first-round NFL draft pick's future plans.

"I think more than anything else he kind of stumbled into a question and answer that he probably didn't answer it in the manner that he was wanting to," Kelly said Thursday. "I think he was saying, 'Yeah, I've got another year. I'm coming back.' I think his intentions weren't to say he's necessarily making a decision."

Kelly said his policy for players making decisions about returning to Notre Dame or leaving for the NFL draft is that they do it after the season is over.

"I've pretty much made it clear to our players – including (senior defensive tackle) Louis Nix, we've had this with (former linebacker) Manti Te'o, (former tight end and Bishop Dwenger standout) Tyler (Eifert) and (former receiver) Michael Floyd – that any big decisions relative to the status that our players have relative to the NFL, that we'll exhaust all of their means relative to the NFL and their draft status as well as talking to their family members at the end of the season," Kelly said. "So no decisions will be made as long as I'm the head coach here until the end of the season. We won't be making any announcements.

"I think Stephon just got caught in the question. An honest answer to a question that he probably wishes he could have answered a little bit better if he was asked the question again."

Kelly has had success in keeping players projected to be selected in the NFL draft for one more season.

Floyd and Te'o each returned for their final seasons, and Eifert came back for one more year before leaving with a year of eligibility remaining last season.

Eifert was projected to be a second or third round draft pick after his junior season when he decided to return for his senior season. He was selected in the first round by the Cincinnati Bengals in this year's draft.

"I think primarily it's the ability to gain their degree and have their degree in hand, as well as if there are opportunities for them to gain leverage in the NFL relative to their draft status," Kelly said of players returning. "I think those two things are the most important. The third would be to come back and play with their teammates, and not necessarily in that order. I think you take a (senior offensive tackle) Zack Martin, and I think maybe number one was to play with (junior center) Nick (Martin), not necessarily to enhance his draft order or to get his degree. His degree was going to be taken care of.

"I think those would probably be the over-riding factors in all of that. Tyler came back primarily because he wasn't ready. He wasn't ready for the NFL. He knew what it was going to be like. He still wanted to be part of what we were doing offensively and he knew he was going to be featured, which was probably going to enhance him. So I think each one is a little different."