Before surgery, former Notre Dame DE Tuitt will stage personal combine

ERIC HANSEN
South Bend Tribune

A cryptic tweet, teeming with exclamation points, from Stephon Tuitt Tuesday on Twitter suggested the former Notre Dame defensive end was determined to transcend his latest medical setback.

Apparently he didn’t just mean emotionally.

A fracture in Tuitt’s small left toe was enough to prompt officials at the recent NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis to scratch the 6-foot-5, 304-pounder from all but the bench press portion of the physical testing.

So Tuitt will hold his own personal combine Friday at The Lovett School in Atlanta, Tuitt’s longtime mentor, coach Clifford Gator Browning, confirmed.

“He’ll have surgery expeditiously soon after the pro day,” Browning said. “He doesn’t feel (the injury). He said it doesn’t bother him at all. It’s like a hairline fracture. He didn’t even know he had it. I couldn’t believe the NFL wouldn’t let him work out.”

Eight other Irish players, including projected first-rounders nose guard Louis Nix and offensive tackle Zack Martin, also participated in the NFL Combine, which concluded Tuesday. It was the largest contingent of ND players at the NFL’s invitation-only mass audition since 2002.

Browning wasn’t sure how many NFL teams would be in attendance Friday, but he said he believed Tuitt interviewed with 24 of the 32 squads in Indianapolis.

Tuitt, a three-year starter at ND, but not entirely healthy in any of those three seasons, was projected as a mid-first-round pick by draft analysts during the 2013 season. But shortly after he declared in January he was forgoing his senior season at ND, the trajectory of where he would land in the May 8-10 draft became less ambitious.

Concerns over his weight, reported to be 330 pounds in January by Tuitt himself, and stretches of pedestrian production pushed Tuitt into the second round in most mock drafts. The NFL Combine was to be his stage to answer dangling questions, verbally and physically.

The fact that he lost more than 25 pounds was a strong start. He then put up 31 reps on the bench press on Saturday, sixth-most among the 50 defensive linemen who participated in that portion of his combine, before the rest of his workouts were canceled.

Tuitt ranked sixth in tackles for the Irish (9-4) last season with 50. His 9.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks led the team. He also had 13 quarterback hurries and an interception in 2013.

NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah was the first to report on the small fracture in Tuitt’s left foot, which was discovered through his physical exam at the combine. That injury, described by Jeremiah as a Jones fracture, occurs in the metatarsal bone at the base of the small toe.

The recovery time from corrective surgery on that injury is projected to be six to eight weeks, the long end of which would leave a very small window to get back in shape and work out for teams before the draft.

ND’s own Pro Day is March 20 and recovery from surgery would seem to make that a non-event for Tuitt.

“He’s been running in the high 4.7s, low 4.8s down at IMG (Academy in Tampa, Fla.),” Browning said of Tuitt’s expected time in the 40-yard dash. “He’s slim and trim. He’s put in a lot of hard work. I just want to stress how focused he is, not saying he wasn’t focused before.

“His critics have been saying a lot of different things, and he’s used that for motivation. You can see that in his weight, for one thing. He’s in the best shape of his life. And inside, he’s what an NFL player should look like. He’s a good person. He does what he’s supposed to do. That’s the bottom line.”

Squibs

• Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller took on the task of doing a seven-round mock draft, with eight ND players landing somewhere in it.

Nix (19th, Miami) and Martin (28th, Carolina) landed in the first round with Tuitt and tight end Troy Niklas ending up in the second round as the first (Houston) and last (Seattle) choices in that round, respectively.

Miller has offensive guard Chris Watt going in the fifth (26th, Indianapolis), wide receiver TJ Jones (second, Washington) and outside linebacker Prince Shembo (21st Green Bay) in the sixth round and cornerback Bennett Jackson in the seventh and final round (first to Houston).

Despite some impressive numbers from running back George Atkinson III at the combine, he did not land in Miller’s seven-round mock.

Former ND defensive end Aaron Lynch, a freshman All-American during his one season with the Irish, is projected as a fifth-round selection (31st) by Denver. Lynch did 13 reps on the bench, 18 fewer than Tuitt, and did not participate in any of the running or jumping tests.

He finished his career this past season at the University of South Florida.

• Who’s ND’s best combine participant in recent years? Safety David Bruton of the Denver Broncos.

Putting together all the combine classes from 2006 to 2014, Bruton ranks second in vertical jump (41.5 inches) among safeties, 10th in the 40 (4.46 seconds), fourth in the standing broad jump (11 feet), second in the three-cone drill (6.6 seconds) and second in the 60-meter shuttle (10.96 seconds).

The only member of this combine class to crack the 2006-14 top 10 for his respective position group was tight end Niklas, whose 27 reps in the bench press is tied for 10th in that nine-year period.

EHansen@SBTinfo.com | 574-235-6112 | Twitter: @hansenNDInsider

Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt runs a fumble back for a touchdown against Navy on Saturday September 1, 2012 in Dublin, Ireland. (SBT Photo/SANTIAGO FLORES)