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2021 NFL Draft Prospect Interview: Marlon Tuipulotu, DT, USC

Could Tuipulotu fit on the Colts’ defensive line?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 18 Pac-12 Championship Game - Oregon v USC Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A fan-favorite series is coming back to the site as it is officially prospect interview season. For anybody new to the site or for people who need a reminder, every draft season I sit down with prospects that are going to be in the upcoming NFL Draft to talk with them about their off-field accomplishments and some film aspects on the field. While I don’t always talk to star players, I have been able to talk to a few players who eventually ended up with the Colts such as Khari Willis, Marvell Tell III, and Rock Ya-Sin.

Our next prospect interview is with USC defensive tackle Marlon Tuipulotu. We had a great conversation about his favorite pass rush techniques, his high level of effort on every play, and why he hasn’t come close to his potential yet.


Height: 6’1”

Weight: 308 pounds

Arm Length: 32.68 inches

Class: RS Junior

Tuipulotu is a former four-star recruit out of Central High School in Independence, Oregon. He was set to become a key contributor as a freshman before injuries derailed his first year. He returned in 2018 as a redshirt freshman and appeared in all 12 games, starting 10 of which at nose tackle. He would go on to form one of the nation’s best interior defensive line duos alongside Jay Tufele during his junior campaign in 2019. Even when Tufele opted out of the 2020 season, Tuipulotu finished the year strong. For his career, he totaled 104 tackles, 15 tackles for a loss, 8.5 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles.

For his performance in the shortened 2020 season, Tuipulotu was selected as a First Team All PAC-12 honoree. He also participated in the 2020 Reese’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama this offseason.

ZH: You played with a lot of family members at USC. Your brother Tuli played on the defensive line and your cousin— Talanoa Hufanga— is a safety in this upcoming draft. What was it like for you playing with your family at USC?

MT: It was probably one of the highlights of my career at USC. I feel like getting to play with them is rare, especially in college, but having the opportunity to play with them on the field is, like... it’s one thing to go to school together but playing alongside them was such a blessing for me and my family. It was exciting for sure.

ZH: Your brother is a freshman now. Should we be watching out for him? Is he better than you?

MT: I mean that’s the goal. I want the best for my brother, and I feel like he is going to do what he needs to do to get his name out there and show that he is a great football player.

Playing without Jay Tufele

ZH: You and Jay Tufele were one helluva one-two punch on the interior at USC. He opted out this past year, right?

MT: Yeah, it was tough not having Jay but our mentality was next man up. As a defensive line at USC, with Jay gone, we just wanted to go out there and prove what we could do on the field.

ZH: When you are part of a duo like that, it makes your life a whole lot easier. What was your mindset like coming into this past year knowing you would get more double teams and attention without him?

MT: I was just trying to go out there and do my best. Start off by practicing well and I know that once I do that— and watch film— it would translate to the football field. Just trying to be a student of the game and find those advantages going against other offensive linemen.

Versatility up front/Playing on the interior

ZH: I saw USC used you in a variety of ways from 0-tech all the way out to 3 or 4 -tech. What do you think is the best fit for you in the NFL?

MT: I would be happy to play anywhere, wherever the team needs me to play. I have that versatility to play a 0-tech, shade technique, or a 3-tech so it is based off of whatever team chooses me, and I’m happy to play wherever.

ZH: In the NFL, those 0-tech and 1-tech guys seem to take a while to fully develop. While you wouldn’t know why it takes NFL guys that long to develop personally, what is something about playing those spots that is maybe tougher than people realize?

MT: I feel like only specific people can play the nose technique, just based off of the job you have to do from facing double teams and things like that. Also, you have to be proud of doing the dirty work. I think that is why USC had me in there. They knew I was happy to do the dirty work and do whatever to help me team win. It is a very team centered position.

Energy and Hustle

ZH: No matter where the play is going, you will always try to run it down. I’ve seen you run down plays 20 yards down the sideline. Is that a big part of what a team is getting when they draft you?

MT: For sure. I take pride in getting to the football, whether that is on the line of scrimmage or down the field. I feel like I can bring that to a team. I am a player who is effort and high energy when it comes to plays like that.

ZH: When it comes to working out, you are a big player who is also a great athlete. How do you manage the weight room so you are staying big and strong but also nimble and quick?

MT: It’s really about eating the right things, not trying to eat too crazy. I’m a big guy and I love food but you gotta stay disciplined in things like that. A big part of training is field work while I’m strength training. Just balancing all three of those aspects, then I feel like I can get big but also stay able to move quickly at the same size.

Pass Rush Ability

ZH: What would you say is your go-to pass rush move?

MT: I like going with power. I feel like everything starts with power so I just try to shock the offensive lineman at first, and once I do that then I work moves off of it like the club or the push-pull. Those are the moves I’m using for now. I’m still trying to add some tools to my toolbox for sure.

ZH: What is the most important aspect for you when it comes to executing the push-pull?

MT: For me, it is just shocking the offensive lineman and getting extension. Once I feel like they are on their heels, that’s when I know that I can pull them back. When all his weight is shifted back, that’s when I know to pull him off balance to get by.

Early Career Reserve Role (maybe in Indy?)

ZH: You know that there is a chance that a team drafts you, say like Indy, and they have you more as a reserve player to start your career. What’s your mindset like if your early career path is more as a reserve player?

MT: I have no issue with that. I’d love to learn from guys, especially on the Colts defensive line like DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart. I feel like that would be a great opportunity for me to continue to be a student of the game and learn from great defensive linemen. Like, DeForest Buckner and how good of a pass rusher he is from the interior. I’d love to learn from him and how he wins. I’d love to just be able to learn and grow in my game.

NFL Outlook

ZH: What is my team getting if they draft Marlon Tuipulotu?

MT: You are going to get a hard nosed football player who is a solid run defender, a person who is accountable and a hard worker, and a person who is going to get to the football no matter what. A person who still has the ability to rush the passer when it comes to third down situations. I feel like I bring versatility to a football team, whether I play at a shade or a 3-Tech. Wherever the team needs me is where I will be.

Final Thoughts

Tuipulotu is a player who I really enjoyed watching on film and impressed me even more in the interview. He came off a lot like Grover Stewart where he was quiet and reserved but also knows the level of work he needs to put in at the NFL level (Stewart went from a reserve early in his career to one of the best shade techniques in the NFL).

I think Tuipulotu would be an outstanding fit in Indy. His combination of size and athleticism is a perfect fit for the one gap scheme that Indy deploys and he could be an excellent reserve player behind Stewart to start his career. I think that Tuipulotu is a player to watch on day three of this draft, especially considering the Colts have met with him quite a few times already this offseason.