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Tatupu's Biggest Critics Keep Coming Up Short

Lofa Tatupu was considered too small (5-11, 226) to play middle linebacker, but Seattle Coach Mike Holmgren took a chance:
Lofa Tatupu was considered too small (5-11, 226) to play middle linebacker, but Seattle Coach Mike Holmgren took a chance: "I know what I saw." (By Elaine Thompson -- Associated Press)

And the defense that ranked in the bottom third of the league last year has a new look, a new attitude and a new middle linebacker who isn't surprised that the doubts continue.

"That's human nature," Tatupu said. "Some root for the underdog and a lot like to bash him. So here's what I do. I use 'em to help motivate me."

What Tatupu is doing is not easy, even if his pedigree suggests a career head start. His father, Mosi Tatupu, played fullback and special teams in the NFL, but he never had to do what the Seahawks are asking of his son this season.

The middle linebacker in the Seahawks' defense makes all the defensive calls. So Tatupu has to know his assignments and everybody else's. On a typical play, Tatupu said he has to run through 12 checks and move his teammates like chess pieces based on what he sees.

"What he does is super hard," fellow linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski said. "You don't see middle linebackers started as rookies that much because there's so much to do. That's why he's the X-factor."

If Tatupu's wrong, as he was on a goal-line check in the Seahawks' second game against the Atlanta Falcons, he gets flattened, the play makes "SportsCenter" and Mosi is on the phone.

"He called after that game," Tatupu said, "and he goes, 'Hey, you made "SportsCenter.' " They showed the sack early, and then they showed you on your back.' "

This season will be a learning experience for Tatupu. He acknowledges as much.

Like the time he introduced himself to Vick, his idol, gushing like a star-struck fan in the middle of the second quarter.

Or the time he was supposed to move defensive tackle Craig Terrill head up on the guard, didn't make the check and watched Terrill get flattened. The next time they huddled, Terrill approached Tatupu.

" 'Hey, Lofa, was there any chance that might have been a check G?' " Tatupu recalled. " 'Let's try to get that from now on.' "

Or the time the Seahawks' defensive starters were supposed to be introduced before a "Monday Night Football" preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys.

Tatupu ran on the field with the offense before someone alerted him that his presence was required in the tunnel. He had to use a swim move past defensive tackle Chuck Darby as he tried to get back inside.

"We love making fun of him about that," Kacyvenski said. "That's the best rookie mix-up I've ever heard."

Tatupu will have to learn quickly this season if the Seahawks are going to make the playoffs for the third straight season. Size notwithstanding, he believes he's up to it.

The ideal finish?

"Super Bowl," Tatupu said, offering a shrug. "This is a new team. We set a standard. That's what we've been talking about lately -- living up to that standard. We showed that we're capable of playing a certain way. It would be upsetting to have any setbacks."

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