In what was the most surprising development of the 2017 class, the Trojans recently landed the commitment of four-star defensive tackle Marlon Tuipulotu. A product of Central High School in Independence, Oregon, Tuipulotu was a longtime Washington Huskies commit who was expected to enroll this week in Seattle.
In a surprising turn of events, the nation’s fifth best defensive tackle according to the 247Sports Composite Rankings made a last minute official visit to SC before committing to the Trojans on January 23rd. Marlon Tuipulotu has also already enrolled at school and will be with the USC Trojans for spring practice.
Landing Tuipulotu was not only surprising, but it was also a huge get for USC. Defensive line was the team’s biggest position of need this recruiting cycle and Tuipulotu is ranked as one of the best at his position in the country. This year’s defensive line class is not as strong as 2016 where prospects such as Dexter Lawrence and Ed Oliver immediately became difference makers as freshman. That being said, Tuipulotu has the potential to be an impact player in cardinal and gold.
Listed at 6’2” 295 lbs., Tuipulotu is a big lineman who plays much faster than his size would indicate. The Army All-American has the complete package of size, strength, and speed. At 295 lbs., he has the bulk to line up on the interior of the defensive line. In addition, his athleticism could even allow him to play defensive end in a 4-3 scheme in the NFL. Tuipulotu’s versatility to man almost any position along the defensive line should become very valuable in Clancy Pendergast’s 5-2 defense.
Tuipulotu is a well-rounded lineman, but for his youth his technique and hand usage is excellent. It is rare that many high school seniors use anything more than sheer strength or speed against often outmatched opponents. Tuipulotu, though, is different in that he can overpower lineman and even beat them around the edge in certain situations. When combined with his ability to use his technique to power his way into the backfield, it is obvious that Tuipulotu has an impressive array of tools at his disposal. The four-star recruit is more polished than any other recruit currently in USC’s class, and it should allow him to stay off the sidelines and in the defensive line rotation as a freshman.
Tuipulotu is more polished than most lineman his age, but he also has a rare blend of strength and athleticism for a player his size. Whether it be bull-rushing a lineman or simply using his underrated foot-speed when playing on the outside, Tuipulotu can beat his opponents in a variety of ways. For a player that looks on the lighter side of 295 lbs., having a well-rounded set of skills to beat offensive linemen can be very valuable. Plus, it can open up the possibility of playing at multiple places along the defensive line. For a freshman who is looking to avoid redshirting, Tuipulotu’s all-around game could be vital in ensuring he sees playing time next fall.
Looking ahead, there is little to no reason for USC to prevent Tuipulotu from playing as a true freshman. The defensive end position will probably be the team’s most inexperienced spot in 2017 as Christian Rector looks to be the early favorite to earn the starting job. Rector is a very talented player with fantastic upside, but he has received little playing time thus far in his career. Malik Dorton and Connor Murphy are also expected to contribute, but Dorton is undersized and struggled to make an impact in his first three years on campus while Murphy is a raw redshirt freshman with zero playing experience.
Needless to say, Tuipulotu could be forced in to action very early in his career at defensive end. The defensive tackle and end positions are relatively fluid in Pendergast’s scheme, but Rasheem Greene has the tackle spot locked up and Tuipulotu is probably not big enough to play nose tackle at this stage of his development. Defensive end will probably only be a temporary home for Tuipulotu as he continues to add size, but his skillset should be effective at this spot early in his career.
Another big advantage for Tuipulotu is that he is an early enrollee. This means that he has already begun taking classes and will be practicing and working out with the team from now until fall camp begins in August. Adjusting to a new defense, a college scheme, and a new home can be difficult, but the Army All-American will have plenty of time to work through these changes. This could be huge for USC and Tuipulotu as the team’s inexperience along the defensive line should open up plenty of opportunities for early playing time.
Tuipulotu’s well-rounded skillset is a perfect fit in Pendergast’s fluid defensive schemes and even if he is unable to live up to expectations as a freshman, there is no reason to believe that he will not become an impact player for the Trojans over the next four years.