They're not exactly the Odd Couple, but sophomore Stephon Tuitt and redshirt-sophomore Louis Nix certainly go about their business differently.
Tuitt is the strong, silent type. Thoughtful, even introspective in interviews, but far from garrulous in groups. Conversely, Nix is likely talking right now. Making someone, everyone around him, chuckle in the process.
Their personalties differ and so do their on-field roles. They're strengths are strikingly similar, even at different positions.
“I expect myself to be an impact player, I’m not going to lie,” said Tuitt. “But I’m going to do my assignment the best way I can do it to help my defense and help my team. I won’t boost the ego… just coming up as a sophomore I still have a lot to do.”
Tuitt was withheld from action vs. Michigan in Week Two, largely for the true freshman's penchant to stray from backside responsibility -- a death knell against cat-quick quarterback Denard Robinson. He was suspended head coach Brian Kelly three weeks later. Tuitt missed a Thursday class and was left home for the team's trip to Purdue.
He hit his stride thereafter, recording 23 tackles over the next four games, the number standing as the best four-game total for any Irish defensive lineman last fall. A bout with mono derailed his season thereafter until a bowl date, sack, and trio of QB hurries vs. FSU.
“Last year there was a lot of thinking,” Tuitt admitted. “I made plays to the best of my ability, but it started to hit me (against) Florida State. That was the game where it all fell into place and it started to click for me.
“From that point on, I studied and worked harder to become better and (chase) greatness beyond myself. Having one year under my belt built my confidence.”
There's a touch of confidence located to Tuitt's left on the Irish line of scrimmage as well. Nix, who entered camp as nose guard 1B to classmate Kona Schwenke's 1A, believes the tandem will thrive as a 1-2 punch this fall.
"That dynamic is awesome,” Nix said of the pairing. “Whether he’s starting, I’m starting … whoever is going in, we know there’s not going to be a drop-off. That’s nothing we worry about.
“That’s my man," Nix continued. "Even though Florida football is better than Hawaii football, that’s still my man. It’s a competition, but at the same time, it’s a friendship. We know we’re brothers and that’s what we stick to. We constantly push each other and we tell each other what we’re doing wrong.”
Blessed with rare quickness in a short space, the 325-pound-plus Nix spends his time off the field spreading good cheer.
“I was once a fan and wish I could have talked to a lot of college athletes,” Nix said of his social media presence. “The University of Miami was my favorite school at the time. I wish I could have talked to those guys on Facebook or social media and gotten a response. That would have satisfied me. Since I’m in that place, I like to do it for the fans. I like to talk to them whenever I can, chat, or say ‘What’s Up’ and ‘Thank You’ or whatever.?
“It’s just I feel that people deserve it,” he continued. ”I would love to interact with my favorite movie star or certain guys on T.V. I just feel like a lot of people will enjoy it more and get a point of view of what my life is or how I am."
That camaraderie with Irish fans helped Nix settle on a fitting nickname.
“I said, ‘I need a name. All good players have a name, The Fridge, The Bus…Irish Chocolate is what I went with. A lot of people suggested it and I said, ‘That’s the one; I like that one.’”
Both Nix and Tuitt, along with first-time regular Schwenke, will benefit from the guidance of the line's graybeard, 5th-year senior Kapron Lewis-Moore.
"I'm an old man," said Lewis-Moore who made his starting debut in the 2009 season-opener vs. Nevada. "Being injured, you realize you took playing for granted. Missing time was not fun, it really hurt me a lot."
Lewis-Moore tore his ACL vs. USC last October. The versatile veteran was one of three Irish defenders who answered the bell vs. the overwhelming Trojans that evening. He was nearly full-go in the spring and has used time since to get back into true football shape. Now in his fourth season as a starter, Lewis-Moore has contributed to nearly every position along the team's shifting front.
"Its fun, too," said Lewis-Moore of his ability to drop inside when the Irish show a four-man line. "I like playing the three (technique), it opens more up. I think we're all versatile though, not just me. I think that energizes (defensive line) coach (Mike) Elston.
Energy isn't in short supply for a front blessed with more than 1,230 pounds of power among its unquestioned top four members.
“I just keep learning and keep improving on whatever coach says I need to improve on,” said Nix. “Last year he said he needed to see consistency out of me. I’m trying to provide that. If he tells me he needs 20 sacks, I’ll try my best to go out there and get 20 sacks. It’s all about working with the coaches. He tells me what I need and that’s what I’ll do.”
He'll have plenty of help.