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Why Tuli Tuipulotu Has Thrived Early in His Rookie Year

FTP 09.21

Below are three takeaways from Chargers Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore, Chargers Defensive Coordinator Derrick Ansley, outside linebacker Khalil Mack and outside linebacker Tuli Tuipulotu following their media availability on Thursday:

Tuipulotu turning heads early on

Chargers rookie outside linebacker Tuli Tuipulotu has made quite the impression to start his first NFL season.

The Bolts second-round selection flashed during the season opener and stepped up in Week 2, more than doubling his snap count due to injuries at the position.

And during the Week 2 matchup in Tennessee, Tuipulotu showed out, making plays all over the field — including notching his first-career sack in the fourth quarter.

"It felt good, it would have been better if we had the strip sack, you see [Khalil] Mack in there ripping it out," Tuipulotu said on Wednesday in the locker room about his sack. "I think that would have been very important for us, we needed that. So, I feel like it was a good thing, but also it could have been better."

"I was just hitting him with power all game so just hit him with power, and I see Morgan [Fox] getting up field, he beat his guy," Tuipulotu later added. "He beat his guy high, so I just came under him to balance out the rush and it just landed in my hands. Morgan would've got it, but I think he kind of slipped off and he just fell in my hands."

In addition to his first-career sack, Tuipulotu has also recorded two tackles for losses and a quarterback hit through two games.

According to Pro Football Focus, Tuipulotu also has four stops (tackles that results in a "failure" for the offense) in his first two games. He also leads all rookie edge rushers in PFF's pass rush win rate among players who have played at least 25 snaps.

Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley praised the rookie's development up to this point on Wednesday, as his ability to wreak havoc has been on full display through the first two weeks.

"He has made a lot of progress," Staley said. "He has made a lot of plays through two games and has been a real bright spot for our defense. He continues to improve. He's been a playmaker for us for two games."

It's not just success rushing the passer for Tuipulotu so far, however.

The Chargers rookie ranks second among all first-year edge rushers in PFF's run defense grade with a 70.6. He also has the second-most tackles in the run from the group with five.

Chargers Defensive Coordinator Derrick Ansley mentioned the qualities that make the rookie impressive against the run, and why he's been a contributor from the jump.

"He's tough, rugged, low-maintenance," Ansley said about Tuipulotu. "He's a throwback-type guy, loves contact, plays with a high motor. Kind of a gym rat type guy, if you tell him something once he got it.

"He's definitely been a pleasant surprise for our defense," Ansley added.

Tuipulotu has been a disruptive force on the field — and some of his most impactful plays so far haven't even showed up on the stat sheet.

The Chargers finished Week 2 with five sacks and in a couple of them, Tuipulotu was right in the thick of it, taking up multiple blockers or working together with other rushers while someone else finished the takedown of the quarterback.

And one of the more successful packages the Bolts had in Week 2 was with Tuipulotu, Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack on the field at the same time.

The ability to have all three on the field at once and move around reminds Tuipulotu of his days at the collegiate level, as he hopes the defense can continue to find success on key downs.

"It's really fun. It takes me back to my USC days because we did the same thing my last year over there, where I would just roam around and jump through stuff," Tuipulotu said. "It's fun being able to be on the same field as K-Mack and Joey at the same time.

"Usually that's not how it is, usually it's one or the other, but being able to be all three of us out there, it's a blessing," Tuipulotu added. "Just taking advantage of the package and make plays so we can keep using it."

This is just the start for Tuipulotu in his NFL career, but the results from the rookie so far have been exactly what the Bolts were looking for.

"Tuli is a baller, man. He's a gamer," Mack said about Tuipulotu. "When the lights cut on, he's ready to go. And that's all we can ask for from a guy that just turned 21 a couple weeks ago.

"He's going out there and playing grown man football," Mack added.

Bolts prepping for Justin Jefferson

Through two weeks, the Bolts secondary has lined up against their fair share of elite wide receivers.

And they'll see another one in Week 3 when they travel up to Minnesota and face off against Vikings star receiver Justin Jefferson.

"Justin's very talented. He's a long guy, has really good body control," Ansley said about Jefferson. "He's kind of limber, where his body can do things in the air that most people can't.

"It's going to be a really good challenge for us," Ansley added. "We got a lot of respect for him ... They got a really good bunch over there, so we got to do a really good job of doing our part and stopping them."

The 2022 NFL Offensive Player of the Year, Jefferson also led the league in receiving yards a year ago. He enters Week 3 as the NFL's leader in receiving yards (309), and has the second-most targets (25) and catches (20) through two games.

The Bolts saw Jefferson firsthand back in their matchup at SoFi Stadium during the 2021 season, but in a very different offense than they run now. Still, Staley had a high regard for Jefferson and what he's been able to do in what now is his fourth year.

"A completely different offense, but just in terms of Justin, one of the fantastic players in the league," Staley said Wednesday. "He is certainly off to a historic pace. One of the most complete receivers, I think, to be in the NFL in a long time.

"For him to be able to do all this as such a young player, he's definitely one of the faces of the league," Staley added.

Jefferson is able to do just about everything at the receiver position at a high level, and he also opens up through the air for the rest of the team given that he takes a lot of attention from a defense whenever he's on the field.

It's going to take everyone in the secondary to be in sync to try and limit Jefferson and the rest of the Minnesota offense, as the group looks to bounce back from the first two games.

"Getting back to our technique and playing how we play," Chargers cornerback Ja'Sir Taylor said Wednesday in the locker room. "These first two weeks, that's not the product we've been working toward.

"This week, we'll get back to what we've been putting our hard work into and hopefully put out a great performance," Taylor added.

Ready to run it back

The Bolts ground game has showcased a pair of different results through two games.

In Week 1, the unit combined for 234 rushing yards and three scores on 40 attempts.

But last week's performance against a stout Titans front went for 61 yards and no scores on 21 carries.

"It ultimately wasn't what we wanted," said Chargers Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore. "You want to be more efficient, but they certainly have a history of doing a really good job against the run."

The Chargers will now go up against a Vikings run defense that ranks 29th so far with 166.0 yards allowed per game.

Minnesota surrendered only 79 yards to the Buccaneers in Week 1 on 33 carries (2.2 yards per attempt). But the Vikings gave up a whopping 259 rushing yards in Week 2 to the Eagles, who scored three times and averaged 5.4 yards per attempt.

Moore said the answer to it all, including what could happen Sunday in Minneapolis, likely lies somewhere in-between.

"Every game is going to be very different," Moore said. "You can watch [Minnesota's] first game, the way it went against Tampa, I thought they stopped the run really, really well.

"Tampa didn't have the day that Philly had, from a run perspective, and Philly was able to run the ball pretty well," Moore added. "They're in the early phases of their defensive system being built out and will have plenty of adjustments."

Joshua Kelley got the start for the Bolts in Week 2 and could be in line for that role again Sunday. Austin Ekeler has not practiced this week due to an ankle injury.

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