"I look forward to it. I welcome the challenge, because I’ve always been in that situation. It’s another challenge that I get to go at. I look forward to helping the team in any way I can. You don’t always come in and start right away, but I’m going to compete the best I can, and if special teams is what they ask, I will do whatever they ask of me." – Lofa Tatupu, on his ascent to the NFL.
im·meas·ur·a·ble adj. Impossible to measure; Vast; limitless.
in·tan·gi·ble adj. Something intangible, especially an asset that cannot be perceived by the senses. Often used in the plural: intangibles such as goodwill and dedication.
in·ten·si·ty n. the quality or state of being intense; especially: extreme degree of strength, force, energy, or feeling; the magnitude of a quantity (as force or energy) per unit (as of surface, charge, mass, or time)
When the Seahawks traded their second-round pick and two of their fourth-round picks to move up in the second round from 54th to 45th overall in the 2005 NFL Draft, you knew that the War Room had a plan in mind.
They did, but the plan was a surprise to just about everyone not privy to it.
The Seahawks sacrificed those three picks to insure that USC linebacker Lofa Tatupu would wear their uniform in 2005 and beyond. Fan reaction was certainly mixed, as was analyst opinion. Lofa Tatupu is known as a player who made it this far as much on heart, intelligence and desire as on sheer athletic ability. Such players don’t always get the big love from the tools-obsessed cognoscenti
However, such players are the kind that you’d best get used to seeing in Seattle. The modus operandi of new team president Tim Ruskell is well-known – malcontents will not be tolerated, and the idea that intangibles can (and will) frequently complement – or outweigh - measurables is to be taken to heart.
In Tatupu’s case, the oddity was the fact that although he was one of the leaders of a USC defense that helped the Trojans to two consecutive NCAA championships, to say that he was under the radar to many NFL followers is an understatement. To peer beyond the unknown, Seahawks.NET asked Garry Paskweitz, the publisher of WeAreSC.com (Scout.com’s USC site) to give us the inside story.
The more you read, the more you may think that the trade up wasn’t a “reach” at all.
.NET: The most notable aspect of Seattle’s second-round pick of Lofa Tatupu has to be the wildly divergent range of reaction – from the Kiper camp who believes he was at least a two-round reach, and those who agree with NFLDraftScout.com’s Rob Rang, who didn’t think he was a reach in the second round at all. To what would you attribute the wide-ranging take on his value?
Paskwietz: I would probably say the fact that he doesn’t fit the “classic” mold of a linebacker. He doesn’t run tremendously fast, he’s strong but he’s not overly strong and he doesn’t have the physique that will blow you away. My guess is that throws off some personnel evaluators.
.NET: Tatupu was a pointman in a defense that led the Trojans to two consecutive national championships. How much were his numbers buttressed by the talent around him? Is he a true impact player or a product of the system?
Paskwietz: He’s a true impact player who did benefit from playing in the USC system but the fact is Lofa was the one directing the defense and his intelligence allowed the Trojans to play the way head coach Pete Carroll wants to play. His football intelligence is what sets him apart.
.NET: Lofa has said that he’s a very coachable player, and one major reason the Seahawks grabbed him is the relationship that SC linebackers coach Ken Norton, Jr. has with Seattle defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes. What can you tell us about the Tatupu/Norton relationship?
Paskwietz: I don’t really know too many details of their relationship beyond what I saw on the field. Norton was only here for one year with Lofa, so I can’t really comment.
.NET: Tatupu led the Trojans in tackles both of his full seasons with the team (98 in 2003 and 104 in 2004). Is it a matter of scheme that directed ballcarriers his way, or is it more that he was always flowing to the man with the ball?
Paskwietz: He’s always in the right spot at the right time. Carroll always talks about how he loves former quarterbacks because they have such a good understanding of the game. Lofa played quarterback in high school and that translates to defense with his knowledge.
.NET: Several scouting reports, and Rhodes in a recent interview, have praised Tatupu’s instinctive gifts. What can you tell us about how those gifts manifest themselves on the field?
Paskwietz: If you watched the 2005 Orange Bowl, you saw a vintage Lofa performance. He wasn’t one of the “big stars” on the field that night, but he was all over the place making key plays, including one fourth down stop right before the first down marker that was simply a terrific play. His instincts for the game are his greatest strength, in my opinion.
.NET: Although a fine tackler, he’s also known for his pass coverage skills – in fact, there are some who apparently had him projected him as a strong safety. Is he better against the run or the pass? And at a playing weight of 225-230 pounds, how do you think 10-15 extra pounds as a linebacker would affect his agility in zone and man coverage?
Paskwietz: He was around 240 on Pro Day, so my guess is that he will stay at linebacker. He’s a barrel-chested guy who is pretty physical. He plays the run well but, as you say, his pass coverage skills are good and I think you can partially attribute that to his background as a quarterback.
.NET: How did he do at the Combine and at his Pro Day? Did his stock rise or fall significantly through the NFL’s grading process?
Paskwietz: He had a solid day but he didn’t do anything to drastically affect his status.
.NET: His father, Mosi Tatupu, was s a fullback in the NFL for 14 years and is currently a Division III coach. Did Lofa come to USC with more polish because of his father’s influence? Does he discuss his dad? Attribute his characteristics to a “family resemblance”?
Paskwietz: He doesn’t discuss his dad a whole lot - it’s not that he doesn’t want to, but he just doesn’t comment on it too much. He didn’t have a whole lot of polish or acclaim when he arrived at USC (from Maine after his freshman season) so there wasn’t a lot of hope for him to become a star. In fact, there was major worry when the previous MLB left - but in the off-season, Pete Carroll kept saying, “This guy Lofa really knows what he’s doing with X’s and O’s, and he’s never out of position.” Carroll had an inkling that Lofa was going to be pretty good.
.NET: What would you say are his greatest strengths and weaknesses as a player?
Paskwietz: His football instincts are the number one strength. The biggest weakness is probably physical limitations in terms of NFL standards - he’s not as big as some or as fast as others. He’s just a football player.
.NET: Speaking of instincts, there are reports that he was calling out all of Oklahoma 's plays on the field in the Orange Bowl (which USC won, 55-19) before the Sooners actually ran them. True?
Paskwietz: Yes. USC defensive tackle Shaun Cody made that comment about Lofa calling out their plays.
.NET: What can Seahawks fans expect when Lofa Tatupu takes the field in Seattle?
Paskwietz: You’ll love him. Great heart, team leader, never complains, always does his job.
"Relentless. I feel that every play is the chance to make something happen. Some of those bigger guys, they rest on their talent, and I have some talent, but I feel that my ability to hustle separates me from the rest." – Lofa Tatupu, on how he plays the game.
Believe it, Seattle. And if you don’t, Lofa Tatupu is getting ready to prove you wrong.
Garry Paskwietz is the owner and publisher of WeAreSC.com, Scout.com’s stellar USC website, Seahawks.NET would like to thank Garry for his perspective! Feel free to e-mail him here.
Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET. Feel free to e-mail him here.