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Football: Defensive dynamos

Allan Joseph | Tuesday, April 3, 2012

It started back on Feb. 2, 2011 – National Signing Day – when highly-recruited defensive linemen Stephon Tuitt and Aaron Lynch signed to play for Notre Dame and Irish coach Brian Kelly. It continued during the 2011 campaign, when Tuitt and Lynch saw plenty of playing time, especially after senior defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore went down with a knee injury.

“It” is momentum. And if Lynch and Tuitt are to be believed, the Notre Dame defensive front has a lot of it heading into the 2012 season.

“[We] know that we have the ability to really do some magic here,” Tuitt said. “When it comes down to it, it’s all practice, practice, become a better player. When the fall season comes, we do our talking with our pads.”

Tuitt said he and Lynch thrive on a friendly competition that pushes each to be better.

“Lynch is a great player. He has some stuff that I can’t do, and I have some stuff that he can’t do,” Tuitt said. “Competing against each other, through the bads and goods, being by each other’s side, it always takes our game to the next level. Being able to go play with each other, we learn stuff from each other.”

That competition has been intense at times, but Lynch said that has formed the defensive front into a group of leaders.

“If you don’t play with an intensity and a passion, I feel like you shouldn’t be on the field,” Lynch said. “If you’re on the field, every person has to be a leader. Everybody has to push everybody.”

Despite the competition, the defining characteristic of the defensive line, and the defense as a whole, has been unity, Tuitt said.

“Everybody here has respect for each other,” he said. “Everybody here has loyalty towards each other. Everybody here plays their butts off for each other. That’s one thing I’m learning – having fun with my defense.”

Tuitt missed the end of the 2011 season with a bout of mononucleosis, but fully recovered by the spring semester and will play more snaps after the graduation of defensive end Ethan Johnson. Despite his increased workload, Tuitt said he is ready for the grind.

“When it comes down to it, I’m ready to answer the bell,” he said.

While Tuitt will see plenty of action on the defensive front, Kelly said there will be plenty of depth behind him.

“We’d like to be able to be at least six [deep,]” Kelly said. “[Playing] seven on the defensive line is great depth and we think that we can get there. We’re giving guys a lot of chances to show that they can be number one. We’re getting a lot of guys into action.”

Tuitt said he thinks all of those players will come together to form a cohesive unit.

“It’s all going to fit together like a puzzle, and we’re going to take off,” he said.

Contact Allan Joseph at ajoseph2@nd.edu