Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt (7) celebrates with teammates after recovering a fumble. Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

NFL Draft: Q&A with Potential First Rounder Stephon Tuitt

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Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt (7). Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

 

With the 2014 NFL Draft only a few months away, we reached out to some of the draft prospects we believe the Green Bay Packers could target in May. Earlier in the week, we heard from early round prospects, Brandon Thomas and Yawin Smallwood. Today, we have the privilege to hear from Notre Dame defensive lineman and potential first rounder, Stephon Tuitt.

In Tuitt’s three years at Notre Dame, he finished third all-time in school history in career sacks with 21.5 and had the second most sacks in a season out of any Notre Dame player with 12 in 2012. Tuitt’s 23 career tackles for loss and 27 quarterback hurries also show just how dominate he was at defensive end for the Fighting Irish.

The First-Team All-American is one of the top overall defensive lineman prospects in this year’s draft, and at 6-foot-6 and around 315 pounds, Tuitt is scheme versatile between the 4-3 defensive tackle and 3-4 defensive end position.

Many see Tuitt going in the mid-to-late first round of the draft, and the junior from Notre Dame could be a real option for the Packers with the 21st overall pick. Others believe Tuitt is better suited for the second round, but either way, Tuitt is a highly talented defensive lineman with experience playing in a 3-4 defense.

Because Tuitt is a player that could be a real fit for the Packers in the draft, we contacted him and I had the privilege to speak with him over the phone.

Q. Tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up and how did you first get into football?

ST: I’m from Miami, FL. I didn’t play football until my freshman year in high school when I moved to Georgia with my mom and three brothers. I didn’t grow up playing a lot of football, but the first day of practice in high school, I was a freshman and I wasn’t on the team at that time and I wanted to go to the first practice but I didn’t live nearby. I was so determined to be part of the team I walked 12 miles to the first practice. When I got there it was already over. The coach said “you missed everything.” He thought I was a local kid and just showed up late. I told him where I walked from. He was surprised. He said I didn’t have to do that again and that I could just be part of the team.

Q. What led you to play for Notre Dame? 

ST: When I started playing in high school, I wasn’t highly recruited. I didn’t have scholarship offers. I wanted to play either quarterback or tight end, but I just started playing defensive line. I try to be the best at everything I do, so I worked hard at it. My coaches helped me with my technique and using my size and speed to be a good defensive lineman. I played hard and then I got my first scholarship offer from Clemson, and then others started coming in. When it came down to it, Notre Dame was the best fit for me.

Q. What drove you to be so successful in college?

ST: I went to Notre Dame wanting to be one of the best players in college football. I accomplished that goal in a three-year span. I set franchise records for my position with 21.5 career sacks, including finishing third all-time among all Notre Dame players in career sacks and second in sacks in a season with 12 in 2012. I come from the same area of the SEC players, so I knew I could play. I work hard at everything I do. I play with an animal mentality. I’m out there doing whatever I can to help my team win games. Last year, I helped my team get to the championship game and I played on the top defense in college football.

Q. What has this whole draft process been like, and what do the next few months look like for you?

ST: Right now, I’m just focusing on getting in the best physical shape possible. I’m working hard every day with IMG to prepare for the NFL Combine and pro days. I just stay determined. I try to go out there and prove it every day. I’m relentless. Every day I wake up to be better than the day before. Better at everything. I work on my hand technique, footwork, conditioning, and just being a better player.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive end Stephon Tuitt (7) sacks USC Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler (6). Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Q. For those of us who may have not seen you play in college, describe your style of play.  

ST: I played the 3-4 as an end. I was asked to two-gap, and if you can two-gap well, you can do anything well at the position. I bring a physicality to the position. A tough, relentless mindset. I’m going hard in practice and in the game. You can’t say you’ll play hard in the game if you don’t practice hard during the week. You have to be ready to play against the big 6-5, 300-plus offensive linemen in the NFL. I did that in college. I two-gapped against big offensive linemen.

Q. What makes you unique at the position?

ST: I can do it all at the position, but I better do it every day if I want that reputation. I got to do it in practice and in the game. I’m also a great leader. I communicate with my teammates. I learned from the great players in front of me. I know what it’s like to play on a great defense, and I know how to handle success.

Q. We know what makes you unique, but what are your strengths as a defensive lineman?

ST: As a player I’m tough, powerful, athletic, and smart, but I can also rush the passer. My pass rushing skills are something I worked on all the way back to high school with my coaches. I learned what it meant to rush the passer and how important it is. My coaches helped me on how to use my hands, feet, and frame to best use my size and power. Combine this with my natural ability to be quick and athletic and it helps me get after the quarterback.

Q. You said you’re working on your technique, but what other parts of your game would you like to work on before the draft?

ST: I’d like to work on everything. I don’t feel like I’m there quite yet or that I’ve arrived and am the best player I can be. I need to polish my entire game. If it’s one specific thing besides my technique, it would be working on my weight. I’d like to slim down and get in the best shape possible before the draft.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive end Stephon Tuitt (7) sacks Michigan State Spartans quarterback Connor Cook (18). Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Q. What is your favorite thing about playing on the defensive line?

ST: Hitting the quarterback. Sacking the quarterback is the best feeling in the world. When you get to him there’s nothing like it. The offensive line tries to stop you all game, so it’s great when you beat them and get to the quarterback. Also, returning a fumble for a touchdown as a defensive lineman. There isn’t a better play that can change the momentum in a game than a defensive lineman scoring a touchdown.

Q. Are there any NFL players you study or try to model your game after?

ST: I’d say Richard Seymour, Alan Page, Justin Tuck, and Michael Strahan. I don’t exactly copy any of them, but they’re players I enjoyed watching play. I try to take things from their game and add it to my own.

Q. A lot of draft analysts have you going in the first round. Is this where you expect to be drafted? 

ST: The first round is what I’m expecting. Yes.

Q. Is there pressure with this type of expectation?

ST: I have high expectations for myself. That’s why I work so hard. I set high goals for myself and do the work necessary to accomplish them. I want to come in and help the team win. I want to win a championship. I want to make an impact.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive end Stephon Tuitt (7) sacks BYU Cougars quarterback Riley Nelson (13). Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive end Stephon Tuitt (7) sacks BYU Cougars quarterback Riley Nelson (13). Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Q. Defensive line will be a big need for the Packers going into the draft. How would you feel if Green Bay drafted you in the first round? 

ST: How would a baby feel getting a pacifier? I’d be so excited. It doesn’t matter where I go, I’d just be so excited.

Q. What kind of player would they be getting and what could you bring to their defense?

ST: I’m tough, eager, and determined. I’d be a great teammate. I’m always willing to learn, to get better. I’m a baller. I go all out. They’d get somebody that’s wanting to win a championship. That will do anything to help the team win.

Q. Do you know much about the town, fanbase, or organization?

ST: I’ve done a little research. I know it’s publicly owned by the fans. That’s pretty unique. I’ve heard it’s one of the best football towns. A place where people go to watch a big game. It has a great fanbase and incredible history there.

Q. The Packers do play a 3-4 defense. How well do you think you’d fit in their system?

ST: I’m somebody who already has a good grasp on the scheme playing 3-4 at Notre Dame. Like I said earlier, I can two-gap and that’s what you need to do to be a 3-4 end. I feel like I’m pretty good at two-gapping. I think I’d fit in with their defense pretty well.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive end Stephon Tuitt (7). Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Q. Tell us a little bit more about yourself. Who are the most influential people in your life?

ST: My mom. My brother. My family of course. God. My coaches. Coach Gator. Coach Chuck Smith. All of my coaches at Monroe Area High School. They’ve helped me so much. I would also say myself. I’m very self-driven. That’s a big reason why I’ve made it this far.

Q. When you’re away from football, what do you like to do in your free time?

ST: I like to play video games, especially NBA 2K. My favorite team to play as on the game is the Atlanta Hawks. I also just love life really. I like hanging out. I like to go outside, and I like to fish.

Q. Anything else you’d like Packers fans to know about you?

ST: I just like to be me, and I’m glad you got to know me a little bit more.

 

Career college stats

2013 – 49 tackles, 9 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 13 QB hurries, FF, INT return for TD

2012 – 45 tackles, 11 TFL, 12 sacks, 9 QB hurries, FF, blocked kick, 77-yard fumble return for TD

2011 – 30 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 sacks, 5 QB hurries

 

Film on Stephon Tuitt

Stephon Tuitt Highlights

 

Stephon Tuitt against USC (2013): 7 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 sacks, and 2 QB hurries

 

Stephon Tuitt against BYU: 5 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 sacks, and a QB hurry

 

Watch more film on Stephon Tuitt over at draftbreakdown.com.

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