Tau­moepenu re­turn could help pass rush

The Sacramento Bee - - Sports - BY CHRIS BIDERMAN cbi­der­[email protected]

For all the talk about the 49ers’ need for a dif­fer­ence-mak­ing pass rusher at de­fen­sive end, they’ve added just one true edge de­fender with their 19 picks in the last two NFL drafts.

And that player, Pita Tau­moepenu, might fi­nally get his first NFL snaps on de­fense Sun­day against the Den­ver Bron­cos.

The Univer­sity of Utah grad­u­ate was pro­moted from the prac­tice squad this week af­ter de­fen­sive end Dekoda Wat­son was placed on in­jured re­serve with a torn calf suf­fered in last week’s loss to the Seat­tle Sea­hawks. Tau­moepenu has spent his en­tire NFL ca­reer on the prac­tice squad, save for two games late last sea­son when he was only used on spe­cial teams, af­ter he was made a sixth-round pick in 2017.

“It’s been tough for him be­cause there’s been a lot of in­juries (at other po­si­tions),“de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Robert Saleh said. “But the D-Line, for the most part, has been healthy. So he was al­ways part of the first dis­cus­sion. ‘Is it time? Is it time? Is it time?’ ... So now it’s his turn. Hope­fully, he takes ad­van­tage of it.”

Tau­moepenu is listed at

6-foot-1 and 245 pounds, which is typ­i­cally light for a de­fen­sive end. Adding strength and size has been the fo­cus with ath­letic trainer Ray Wright, who tasked Tau­moepenu with in­creas­ing weight — 15 to

20 pounds — on a num­ber of ex­er­cises in the weight room each week while he’s been on the prac­tice squad.

“I’m a lot stronger, to be hon­est,” Tau­moepenu said. “Peo­ple out here are grown men. You go against them, like Joe (Sta­ley), you bet­ter bring your ‘A’ game.”

Per­haps no player has gone more against the

49ers’ premier tackle over the last two sea­sons than Tau­moepenu, who is of­ten charged with mim­ick­ing the up­com­ing op­po­nents’ best pass rusher on the prac­tice field. Work­ing against a six-time ProBowler each day has been in­stru­men­tal in Tau­moepenu de­vel­op­ing to the point where he could fi­nally get a shot to harass an op­pos­ing quar­ter­back in the reg­u­lar sea­son.

“Joe’s seen ev­ery­thing, ev­ery type of rush. Speed, power, ev­ery­thing,” he said.

The 49ers took a chance on Tau­moepenu’s ath­letic traits af­ter play­ing in just 16 games at Utah. He ran a 4.67 in the 40yard dash at the NFL com­bine, which ranked in the 92nd per­centile among de­fen­sive line­men. And his 6.91 sec­onds in the three-cone drill – which is con­sid­ered one of the best mea­sure­ments of agility, quick­ness, and the abil­ity to change direc­tions – ranked in the 94th per­centile.

But Tau­moepenu lacked the strength to con­vert his speed into power, which Sta­ley said is in­te­gral for de­fen­sive ends who don’t have hulk­ing 280-pound frames.

“A guy like (Charg­ers pass rusher) Melvin In­gram is a chal­lenge,” Sta­ley said. “He’s 6foot-1, 6-foot-2. It’s not be­cause of his size, it’s be­cause of his strength. So that’s more of the is­sue than the guy’s size . ... (Tau­moepenu) has al­ways had great ath­leti­cism, work ethic. But over the last year that he’s been here, he’s worked a lot to get that strength up, and you can feel that strength go­ing against him.”

Sta­ley said strength was the key to the 49ers leader in sacks last sea­son, Elvis Dumervil, who logged 105.5 ca­reer sacks de­spite mea­sur­ing in at 5-11 and roughly 250 pounds – with a sim­i­lar build to Tao­moepenu.

“That was what made him him in his hey­day,” Sta­ley said of Dumervil, who re­tired in Au­gust. “His size and his nat­u­ral lever­age, he was an ex­cep­tion. I think he was barely six foot. He was so pow­er­ful in the lower body and re­ally was able to bull rush a lot.”

Tau­moepenu, who grew up on the Tonga is­land of Ton­gat­apu, 3,000 miles east of Aus­tralia, said he can lift roughly twice as much weight in the bench press than he could in col­lege. He logged 24 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press at the com­bine, but vows he can do a lot more af­ter nearly two full sea­sons in an NFL weight lift­ing pro­gram.

“It makes pass rush­ing a lot eas­ier,” he said. “It makes me feel like I can free style. If I go speed, and I get got, I can go to power. I can switch it up so O-line­men don’t fig­ure out my fa­vorite moves.”


The 49ers are ex­pect­ing the de­but of 2017 sixth-round pick Pita Tau­moepenu to help bol­ster the pass rush.

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