Not as easy as 1-2-3

Irish defensive line Saturday night could include trio of intended starters for first time since September 15 in West Lafayette.

A returning All-American and Ted Hendricks Award finalist in Stephon Tuitt at defensive end.

A sophomore aligned opposite, and one of whom his head coach offered, "I wouldn't trade Sheldon Day for anyone on our team," prior to the season's outset.

Returning All-American nose guard Louis Nix as the rock set between them.

Notre Dame's defensive line entering the 2013 season looked great on paper. They've spent precious little time together on the playing field.

"We played some good stretches of football," said head coach Brian Kelly of the defense prior to a two-week tussle with option offenses. "We put together some good football against some very good offensive football teams and never getting the three those guys on the field at one time says a lot to the group coming together.

"I would like to look again at the development of some of the players that have come in and played really good football. We're looking at this weekend hopefully getting at least those three guys on the field at the same time. At what level of health, we will see where it is."

Nix, Day, and Tuitt played together for limited snaps in a 14-10 win over USC. Previously Day sat vs. Arizona State, Oklahoma, and Michigan State after injuring his ankle late in a close win over Purdue.

Saturday in Pittsburgh, each should be ready to play after a week of practice.

Nix sat out vs. both Air Force and Navy since he and Tuitt led the defensive charge on October 19 vs. the Trojans. He'll practice this week and Kelly expects him to be in the starting lineup.

"Normally I would be concerned about the volume and maybe I am a little bit," said Kelly in reference to how many snaps Nix can handle Saturday in Heinz Field. "He's worked really hard. He's been in at 7:00 in the morning…Louis would admit tha's really early for him, too.

"He's really worked hard in these last couple of weeks to stay fit. He had a jug of water with him today, hydrating, I think he's committed to giving everything he can. He's committed to getting himself back here and doing the best he can to help our football team."

Nix had a procedure done on his knee, a small meniscus tear and serious tendinitis causing him pain. A mandatory surgery will be done at some point, likely after the season, pending the senior's ability to hold up through the end of the regular season.

The tendonitis he has…this is something that is chronic and will require attention at some point," said Kelly. "After the USC game he was in real pain and it was a real situation for him, coupled with the fact that the worst thing is to get re-injured the next week or the week after.

"So this was a decision that, talking to Brian Ratigan, our team surgeon, and (head trainer) Rob Hunt it was best that he get a PRP, which puts you out for two weeks, which mitigated the pain that he had with the tendonitis, which now will allow him to go back in and play the game the way he can play it. 

"We don't want him hobbling around and putting himself in harm's way.  He feels good about it, and he knows he can help the football team."

Backup Plan

With Day and Nix not at full strength and Kona Schwenke out indefinitely, attention turns to their backups across the defensive front. For Notre Dame, it will take a village to win Saturday in Heinz Field and thereafter vs. two powerful offenses, BYU and Stanford, to conclude the season.

"Isaac Rochell obviously, Jarron Jones," said Kelly beginning a list of players to be called upon. "(Senior) Justin Utupo is going to be asked to do more for us. (Junior) Anthony Rabasa is going to have to do some things for us at the Cat. The guys that have been in our defensive meeting room are going to have to be those guys that step up and perform in roles that are expanded.

We're hopeful about Louis being able to play a role this weekend. He will practice today.  We're hopeful that we're going to see more of Sheldon. He will continue to practice and see where that takes us. Then Stephon moving out to more of his natural role outside is going to be a benefit for us as well."

Kelly added Tuitt's impact vs. option teams was limited as he was asked to play inside and often faced "scramble blocks" on his legs to neutralize him.

"I think getting into a more traditional offense this week you will see more from Stephon," said Kelly. "I think he can influence the game a lot more…I think he will have more of an impact on the game this week in terms of what he can do with his size and athleticism than maybe the last couple of weeks."

In the two games (ASU and USC) played prior to facing option attacks from Air Force and Navy, Tuitt compiled 10 tackles, 3.5 for loss, 3 sacks, 4 QB hurries, a forced fumble and a pass breakup. Against the Academies, Tuitt registered nine total tackles with no plays of impact that littered his stat sheet vs. the standard offenses favored by the Sun Devils and Trojans.

Not Available

Kelly reiterated Tuesday that junior defensive end Chase Hounshell will not play this season. The plan is to bring Hounshell's thrice surgically repaired shoulder along slowly in hopes he can play in 2014. Hounshell did not play in 2012, either.

"We made a decision not to reengage Chase Hounshell this year," said Kelly. "That was made prior to the (Navy) game. The surgery that he had, I think we're at that point where we don't want to go 0-to-60 with Chase. We're re-engaging him into light contact, moderate contact to full contact, and we would like to take that out and space that out through the spring instead of jumping him into a full-contact situation after a third surgery."

Kelly added that freshman defensive lineman Jacob Matuska will not be pressed into action, either. Matuska has not traveled with the team to road games this season.


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