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SOUTH BEND – Despite being relegated to a walking boot and watching Notre Dame Pro Day on Thursday with current Fighting Irish players on the sidelines, defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt still commanded a big media presence.
Tuitt missed out on participating in the drills portion of the NFL Draft Combine in February after it was discovered in an exam at the event that he had what is described as a Jones fracture in his big toe.
Tuitt underwent surgery to fix the injury that he didn't even know he had, one that hurts being able to push off of the foot.
The surgery was successful and despite missing both the Combine and Pro Day, Tuitt feels he is in good position entering the NFL Draft in May.
“I am two weeks in (to recovery) and I have two more weeks left,” Tuitt said. “I just need to get (the foot) healthy, get it right.”
Tuitt projects on many draft boards as one of the top defensive linemen available. The 6-foot-5, 300-pounder was one of the more disruptive defensive ends in the country the last few seasons. He notched 45 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and six sacks in his junior season prior to declaring for the draft.
After training for six weeks leading up to the Combine, Tuitt was surprised to learn he was injured.
“I felt as healthy as I could be,” said Tuitt about the injury. “To get news like that kind of put me down.”
Tuitt did not stay down long as he focused on keeping his body in shape between 300 and 305 pounds. He recently weighed in at 299, impressive for a player that had problems getting to weight after off-season hernia surgery before his junior campaign.
With two injuries in less than a year, Tuitt may see his draft stock drop with some teams. However, his projection as a player who can play both on the edge and in the interior will make him a valuable commodity to many teams, with most mock drafts still projecting him as a mid-to-late first round pick.
As for this injury, Tuitt believes once training camp starts for whichever NFL drafts him, he will be ready to go.
He also does not anticipate taking part in any more drills or private workouts prior to the draft.
“It depends on how my foot is,” Tuitt said. “But right now, no.”
Tuitt's mother has always made the value of a Notre Dame education a primary focus, and he does not intend to disappoint. He said Thursday that he will return to South Bend over the next few NFL offseasons to finish his degree.
But the focus now is on healing up and being ready for the NFL.
“I just want to make sure when I do my final (evaluation), everything is in place,” Tuitt said. “(Making sure) the foot is back, the foot is strong … that's what matters the most.”