COSTA MESA, Calif. — When the Chargers selected Tuli Tuipulotu in the second round of the NFL Draft, he told the media that he would be a sponge and soak up information.
He especially wanted to learn from two pro bowlers in Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa.
“He calls me ‘sir,’ which is weird. ‘Yes, sir.’ I’m like, ‘I’m not that old,’ but he’s just a great guy,” Bosa said.
Bosa is 28 years old, while Tuipulotu is 20 years old. In NFL years, Bosa is going into his eighth NFL season, while Tuipulotu is going into his first.
“I saw that,” Mack said. “It’s definitely different. We’ll be making our way to Mr. Mack or something, at least.”
Mack is 12 years older than Tuipulotu, so “Mr.” may be more appropriate.
“I say ‘Yes, sir,’ to everybody, but it’s Joey Bosa so you have to give him respect,” Tuipulotu said. “I respect those guys, him and Khalil Mack. Whatever they need, I’ll do it, rookie duties and all that.”
Tuipulotu is coming off a dominant junior season at USC, sacking the opposing quarterback 13.5 times and 22 tackles for loss. That was college though, there is no film of him as a professional.
For him, it is all about paying attention in the classroom and applying it on the field.
“He’s a student of the game,” defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley said. “He knows what kind of impact those two guys have had in the NFL in the decade. He’s willing to pick their brains and soak it all up.”
Last Sunday, the Chargers held a scrimmage, and Bosa didn’t practice due to an illness. That was a moment that Tuipulotu took full advantage of.
There was a play against the first-team offensive line where he went free, and left guard Zion Johnson was late pulling to block the rookie, and in a real game, he would have sacked quarterback Justin Herbert.
“He has a motor,” Mack said. “He’s a fast learner. I know he’s going to be a great player because he has a nose for the football and has all of the intangibles and the potential to be a great player.”
In another play against the second team, he went up against Brenden Jaimes, who was playing right tackle; the edge rusher used his speed to beat his blocker and ran straight into Easton Stick. He skipped in excitement and yelled something to his sideline.
At times during practice, when Tuipulotu comes off the field and goes straight to Bosa, Mack or even outside linebackers coach Giff Smith.
“You try not to overwhelm him,” Mack explained. “There’s a lot of different intangibles when it comes to playing on the edge. Knowing that he played at a high level at the college level, I know the game will come to him, but it’s going to take some time getting used to playing against guys like [Rashawn] Slater and [Trey] Pip [Pipkins].”
Having those voices is special for a rookie, but also facing a pro bowl left tackle in Rashawn Slater. They faced each other in one-on-ones during camp. There has been only one winner in each meeting.
“I’ve got to win,” Tuipulotu said. “I don’t think I’ve beaten him yet. He’s a great player; strong hands and very disciplined with his outside hand and inside. It’s crazy how he uses his hands.”
Speaking of using their hands, Tuipulotu has noticed the different forms of pass-rushing moves by Bosa and Mack. Bosa uses his speed and hands while occasionally using a spin move. Mack uses his strength to overpower offensive linemen; sometimes, he can throw them down with one hand.
“I’m trying to get little bits of both, but closer to Joey for sure,” Tuipulotu explained. “I feel like with K Mack, he’s a freak of nature — not saying Joey isn’t either. I think I could get a little bit closer to Joey in terms of footwork and hands. Hopefully, I can get there.”
This weekend will be his first test as the football player who went from Lawndale High School to USC to being drafted by the Los Angeles Chargers and will now debut at SoFi Stadium with family and friends present.
“My paycheck is going to be a little low there, but hopefully, I’ll have my whole family there,” Tuipulotu said.
The Chargers will need him to step up this season as he continues to learn from two of the best. The pass rush suffered last season when Bosa went down with an injury.
If he can give the defense another formidable pass rusher, they could be a lethal trio especially playing against Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, and Josh Allen, to name a few.
He has impressed his coaches and teammates. Now it is about making an impact starting on Saturday night.
“He’s everything that you could possibly want in a rookie,” Bosa said. “Physically gifted. He does everything right.”