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Spadaro: Young defensive tackles hungry for more after opener

Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro
Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro

His first thought after pressuring Lions quarterback Jared Goff and seeing cornerback James Bradberry with the football tucked under his arm was to find somebody to block.

Not to celebrate.

Not to pause after making a big play.

Marlon Tuipulotu thought of helping his teammate.

"That was it, honestly," said Tuipulotu, an Eagles' sixth-round draft choice in 2021 who played all of 55 defensive snaps in five games last season. "It's not about me out there. It's about doing my job and helping this team win games. I just wanted to find somebody to block and then when James made it to the end zone, we all celebrated.

"It was a great feeling."

In the opening game of the 2022 season, Tuipulotu registered 29 total snaps, working in a five-man defensive tackle rotation that gives the Eagles much-needed depth to withstand the rigors of the marathon 17-game season. Tuipulotu is part of a young trio of tackles – including 2021 third-round draft pick Milton Williams and 2022 No. 1 pick Jordan Davis – available to back up starters Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave.

The Eagles needed every bit of that depth in Detroit on Sunday and they'll need it again on Monday night when the Vikings come to town. These guys may not be the attention grabbers – they are most certainly not the attention seekers – but they are certainly valuable pieces in the Eagles' defensive puzzle.

"I'm never that guy – I'm sure nobody in this locker room feels that he's the guy, because it's complementary football and we all feed off of each other and we all have strengths and weaknesses that complement each other – so it's my job to do my role when I'm called upon," Davis said. "I feel that I'm ready. ... When the dust clears, I'm like, 'Alright, you held your own and you're ready for this.' Obviously, there is a lot of technique stuff to continue to work on and things I can improve upon, but obviously I'm here for a reason. I'm going to continue to have that mindset. That gives me the edge. I've got something to prove. I play with a chip on my shoulder."

Tuipulotu played sparingly in his rookie season – 26 of his defensive snaps came in the regular-season finale against Dallas when the starters rested – and he came into the spring and summer knowing he had something to prove.

Nothing was guaranteed for Tuipulotu, not with the arrival of Davis and not with talent throughout the defensive tackle room.

"I'm just working hard every day, keeping my head down, and trying to make myself a better player," said Tuipulotu, a USC product and the 189th overall selection in the 2021 draft. "All of that offseason work, for that to make me a better player and to see the result of it when I got on the field this year, that's exciting. Last year was a learning experience. You look at the guys in our DT room and, man, the expectations are high. I'm shooting for more every day. All I can do is work hard. That's my mentality. I want to gain the trust of my teammates and that's always my goal.

"I'm all about work. I just want to keep improving myself as a player. I'm looking for any advantage I can get. Grave (Hargrave) and Fletch, they've helped me so much. Our coaches tell us to go out and do my job to the best of my ability. That's what our coaches tell us to do, how to approach it, and that's what I'm doing."

Williams had a more significant taste of the action as a rookie, logging 456 snaps on defense. He was part of that five-player defensive tackle rotation in Detroit on Sunday – he had 33 snaps, Tuipulotu had his 29, and Davis was on the field for 22 snaps – and played with great energy and leverage. Williams has also shown in the past that he can play on the edge if needed – as can Cox – so the Eagles have versatility with their defensive tackle group.

While it's not heralded as much as many other storylines on this team, the development of those three young tackles can play a huge role in the success of the defense this season.

"I feel like we push each other to be the best we can be," Williams said. "I don't think anyone is even close to being satisfied. We know we have so much more to do and that starts in this game. Every week, it's another great offensive line and veterans who understand the game, so our learning curve is pretty steep. We're here to contribute right now."

They did it in Week 1 and they're looking for more on Monday night. The lights. The cameras. The action.

"I just want to play football," Tuipulotu said. "It's great to get called and get some playing time, and it's my job to give the coaches what they want, what our defense demands."

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