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Arizona Wildcats football: Fullback Tutogi working toward long career in NFL

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Lost in the shadows of Ka’Deem Carey’s breakout All-American sophomore season, was the effect it had on his backfield mates.

Taimi Tutogi, a fullback, doesn’t blame Carey for his lack of touches in 2012, but he’s still confused.

At Pac-12 Media Day in July, then-new Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez said, “I think Taimi Tutogi can be a star. He’s a big guy, and he may play an unselfish role, but he’s got a great skill set. He can do a lot of different things.”

Through fall camp, Tutogi said he was under the impression he’d be getting his share of carries.

That didn’t exactly materialize, primarily because there weren’t enough carries to go around in Carey’s record-breaking season.

“A lot of people ask me back home, and even on my team, you know, ‘Why don’t you get the ball on 3rd-and-short?’” Tutogi said. “But I did a lot in the summer and the fall. It was kind of weird for me because I got the ball a lot in the summer; me and Ka’Deem were the one and two backs.”

When Arizona closed its season, and Tutogi his college career, with a New Mexico Bowl win on Dec. 15, Carey finished with 303 carries and 1,929 yards. Tutogi had one carry for a loss of a yard.

“I was capable of doing it,” Tutogi said, “but for some reason, when the season came to it, I don’t know if they forgot about me or they wanted Ka’Deem to get more carries to get his rushing yards up — whatever it may be. But I could see why they wanted Ka’Deem to get the ball; he’s an awesome running back.”

About Tutogi, receiver Dan Buckner added, “I think he’s amazing with the ball in his hands. I honestly don’t think he got the ball enough.”

And while Tutogi might not have had the chance to contribute much with the ball, Rodriguez used Tutogi’s versatility and size, at 6-foot-1, 260-pounds, to his advantage.

His primary position is at fullback — he had 38 carries, 121 yards, 27 receptions, 225 yards and 7 total touchdowns in his UA career — but that might not be enough to play in the NFL.

The seven-round NFL Draft, which will take place on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, rarely sees fullbacks drafted. But Tutogi is not solely a fullback: He’s an H-back and a special teams stalwart and can play defense.

On a defense beset by injuries and depth concerns, Tutogi was needed on the other side of the ball at defensive end, and that versatility has caught the eye of NFL scouts.

“My agent actually called me a few days ago,” Tutogi said, “and said the [Cincinnati] Bengals might have some interest in playing me at rush defensive end … and if I play outside linebacker for the Bengals, I get to play with some of the best linebackers in the league in James Harrison and Vontaze Burfict.”

The possibility of learning from someone like Harrison would be “awesome”, he said.

As a defensive end last year, Tutogi contributed 5 tackles, 1.5 sacks and 1 tackle for loss.

Tutogi said he understands that most NFL players get their start on special teams, and he’s fine with that.

“It’s not about the money or any of the fame,” Tutogi said. “It’s just something I’ve always wanted to accomplish as early as five years old. They could ask me to be a long snapper or waterboy; I’ll do whatever it takes. Hopefully I have a long career in the NFL.”

Path to the Draft

Taimi Tutogi
Position: Fullback/Defensive end
Height/Weight: 6-foot-1, 246 pounds
Career Stats (26 games): 38 rushes, 121 yards, 5 touchdowns, 27 receptions, 225 yards, 2 touchdowns, 9 tackles, 1.5 sacks
Pro Day numbers: – 40-yard dash: 5.07 seconds – 22 bench press reps of 225 pounds – Vertical jump: 31.5 inches

NFL.com Scouting Profile:
Grade: 59.8, 2nd-highest ranked fullback
NFL COMPARISON: Lawrence Vickers (Cowboys)

BOTTOM LINE
Tutogi was a two-way high school star, but his production hasn’t been exceptional during his career (121 rushing yards, 192 receiving yards, seven total touchdowns) with the Wildcats. His versatility (he’s played multiple positions on offense and defensive end for Arizona) and physical tools, however, give him strong potential as a lead-blocker and on special teams coverage units.

Q&A

On what he’s been up to since the New Mexico Bowl:

It’s pretty much been a grind since the bowl — just been working out, trying to stay in shape and look good for whoever comes along and wants to see me work out or take any interest in me.

On his Pro Day performance:

I think I did pretty well for the most part and from what the scouts are saying. I’ve been getting a lot of phone calls saying that I did pretty well. Stock only went up, I didn’t hurt it, and when I get out there, I guess I showed a lot of them I can do a lot of different stuff on any team. I can play defense like I did at Arizona. I can play offense. Special teams is fine with me because special teams is where everyone has to start out. Pro Day was essential for me mainly because I didn’t get invited to the combine; you know Matt [Scott] did, but from what they’re saying I did pretty well. I showed I can catch the ball out of the backfield and I have good hands and I got decent speed and agility for a guy that weighs 246.

On his expectations for the NFL:

I just want to make a team. I don’t care if I’m drafted in 7th round, I don’t care if I go as a free agent, as long as I get a call and a team says, ‘We want you to play on our squad right now.’ That’s all my focus is on. I’m hoping and praying and putting it in God’s hands and hoping it happens, but you know if I do get that call and do make it on any squad, I plan on working my butt off like I did all four years at Arizona. I’ll do my part; I plan on playing 100 percent no matter where I go — no matter what position I play.


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