Planning for success: Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Sheldon Day was the first to enter the auditorium of the football complex after practice Wednesday. Chris Watt came later, with the left guard still in pads and with his right leg lightly wrapped.

Both players' appearance before reporters was as sure of a sign as any that the injured linemen will take the field for No. 23 Notre Dame Saturday night at Pitt. Louis Nix III is expected to go as well, though everyone will have to go off Day's words about Nix practicing Wednesday for the nose guard's improving status.

Getting all three players back is imperative for an Irish team whose injured list seemingly grew by the day these last two weeks after consecutive games against Air Force and Navy.

"It's just knowing what you can and can't do, and basically just getting the motion back and getting the power back with your steps," Day said of playing with an ankle that won't stop nagging him. "Basically trying to teach your body again what it can and can't do."

The sophomore end may as well have been speaking for Watt, too, who has been bothered by a PCL tear that kept him out of last weekend's contest but said he took all of the first-team reps with offensive line Wednesday.

"It's hard to describe because I never really had it before," Watt said of his injury. "It's almost like a lock, I guess you could describe it, and just kind of feels maybe like mentally like it's going to happen right here. But it's an injury that over time you won't even notice after a while, and it'll feel kind of, I guess a weird healing process. But I think just [athletic trainer Rob Hunt] and his staff did a great job this past week-and-a-half and continue to do a good job, and I think by the bowl game I probably won't even notice it."

Watt suffered the injury Oct. 26 at Air Force while working a combination block with Zack Martin and getting his right leg stuck in the surface before it twisted the wrong way. It will not require surgery. Coach Brian Kelly had said that Watt would play against Navy, but during warmups the senior ended up feeling that he would be hurting his team more than helping it by playing.

Day, meanwhile, re-aggravated a high ankle sprain against Navy that he initially suffered Sept. 14 at Purdue, which forced him to miss most of the following three games. He called this injury a less-serious version of the original sprain, and he knew by Monday that it would not be enough to keep him off the field this weekend.

"I felt like it wasn't a point in time where I thought this was worse or anything like that," Day said. "But I could definitely feel it."

As for Nix, the junior is expected back in some capacity after sitting out the last two games with knee tendinitis and a small meniscus tear that has required PRP treatment and will eventually need a minor surgery to clean up the tendinitis, though that will come later.

Nix, a preseason All-American, may have to share the spotlight Saturday night with another interior defensive linemen at Heinz Field, as Pitt's Aaron Donald has garnered plenty of attention this season by leading the nation in tackles for loss (2.4 per game) and coming in at third in sacks (1.1), while also forcing three fumbles.

"Last year we went 101 plays I think on offense, and he was going hard pretty much every snap. He doesn't really come off the field," Watt said of Donald. "He's a guy that's possibly the smartest defensive line player we play this year. He does a really good job of reading O-linemen.

"He does a really good job of knowing our formations the offense is running, so we have to do a really good job this week of being balanced [with] what we're doing and not really giving anything away in our stances."