Notre Dame secures its next head men's basketball coach in Penn State's Micah Shrewsberry

Notre Dame football: Tuitt earns a surprising draft grade

South Bend Tribune

Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday that junior defensive end Stephon Tuitt received a second-round grade from the NFL’s Draft Advisory Board.

Kelly made the comments to Irish Illustrated’s Tim Prister, the only media member present after the team’s practice Tuesday at the New York Giants’ practice facility in East Rutherford, N.J.

The 25th-ranked Irish (8-4) are in New York in preparation for their New Era Pinstripe Bowl matchup with Rutgers (6-6) on Saturday at Yankee Stadium.

The 6-foot-6, 322-pound Tuitt has been almost universally projected as a first-round draft pick, and a high one at that, by most draft analysts.

“Stephon has all that information,” Kelly told Irish Illustrated.

“He'll have to make that decision in the next week or so. We sat down and had a nice conversation where I think that leads him. I gave him the facts of his academics.

“My job is to provide him with all the information whether he wants to hear it or not. Then he has to make a decision. His focus this week is on the game. Right after the game, his No. 1 priority is to make a decision as to whether he enters the NFL Draft or comes back to Notre Dame."

Hendrix leaving

Kelly said senior quarterback Andrew Hendrix has asked for his release from scholarship so that he can explore a grad school-style transfer to spend his fifth year of eligibility at another school. Freshman Malik Zaire is expected to be the primary backup to returning QB Everett Golson in 2014.

Irish tour the Big Apple

Per Notre Dame sports information, after 1½-hour practice Tuesday, the Irish returned to their team hotel in Manhattan, then headed out at 5:30 p.m. for a bus tour of New York City. The team held its Christmas Eve dinner at La Nonna in Little Italy, and then returned for a screening of “Anchorman 2.”

Christmas Day will feature Mass at 10 a.m., followed by a brunch for the entire travel party. The squad will have meetings beginning at noon, and then depart at 1:30 p.m. for a planned 90-minute practice at the New York Jets’ facilities in Florham Park, N.J.

That practice is expected to be held outside to help acclimate the players for Saturday’s game.

A whole new ballgame

When Notre Dame last played at Yankee Stadium, during the 2010 season, current running back Cam McDaniel was a senior at Coppell (Texas) High School. So playing at a baseball-first facility is a novelty to him.

Asked what challenges there are to playing on a field built for another sport, McDaniel had no real answer.

"I honestly have no clue. I'm excited about it personally," McDaniel said. "I don't even watch baseball, but I think it's going to be an awesome experience."

He did, however, offer a parallel in terms of one of baseball's best-known stadia.

"We're kind of like at the Yankee Stadium of football in my opinion," McDaniel said of Notre Dame Stadium. "There's going to be a lot of history there. I think it's going to be a tremendous atmosphere, so I'm really looking forward to it."

Learning experience

Tight end Troy Niklas was one of three Irish juniors for whom Kelly asked for an evaluation from the draft board.

"I think it's just a really good learning experience to see what they have to say and see what they think I can improve on for next year.

I'm just looking forward to it as a learning experience," Niklas said.

"I'll be learning a lot. We'll probably go over it after the bowl game."

It's a snap

When Matt Hegarty took over at center after starter Nick Martin was lost for the season, he wasn't just a new center. He was a new center who snapped left-handed.

Hegarty said a couple of the challenges for the quarterbacks in working with a lefty are that the ball travels to the QB with a different spin than a right-handed snapper — such as Martin — and that when the quarterbacks are under center, the ball arrives at a slightly different angle.

Nothing, however, that a little time hasn't helped smooth.

"It's just a matter of a few reps," Hegarty said. "They kind of see where it is, and, from there on, they don't really notice it."

One bonus is that last year, when he and current starting QB Tommy Rees were both in backup roles, the two got a chance to practice together.

"I got to work with Tommy pretty much the whole year," Hegarty said. "We have a really nice natural cohesion there."

Eric Hansen contributed to this story.

 Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt received a lower-than-expected NFL draft grade. Tribune Photo/JAMES BROSHER