Rookie defensive tackle Josh Tupou went from practice squad to playing time in two days and now looks back on his NFL debut as “surreal.”
The Bengals signed Tupou on Saturday to replace injured Pat Sims (calf), and the 23-year-old found himself thrown into the mix Sunday in a loss to the Titans.
Tupou had been on the Bengals practice squad since roster cutdowns after signing as an undrafted free agent in the spring, coming out of the University of Colorado. Despite the quick transition, he made it onto the field Sunday for 19 snaps and hopes for more time this week when the Bengals play the Broncos in Denver.
“It was crazy signing one day and then knowing you have to go out and perform the next day and try to help your team win,” Tupou said. “It was a surreal moment.”
Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther was pleased with how Tupou — a big run-stopper up the middle — fit in last week, noting the Titans did most of their damage on the perimeter when it came to their running game. Tupou did not record any tackles and did not make the stat sheet.
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Guenther had liked what he saw from Tupou in training camp, enough that the Bengals kept him around on the practice squad. He was an easy choice to replace Sims, who also missed practice Wednesday.
“He’s a guy that gives us some girth in there as a nose,” Guenther said of Tupou.
The 6-foot-3, 320- pounder was an All- Pac -12 honorable mention pick in 2016 after making a career-high 45 tackles, four for loss, and two sacks. He missed the entire 2015 season because of an assault charge stemming from a campus party in Boulder that nearly jeopardized his career, but came back to finish strong as a senior and still was projected as a fifth- or sixth-round draft pick on NFL.com.
After Tupou went undrafted, the Bengals picked him up April 29, and he was thought to be a possible replacement for the size lost in the middle when Domata Peko left for Denver in the offseason.
Tupou remained hopeful he would land on the 53-man roster at some point, so he wasn’t surprised when it happened Saturday, he said.
“I don’t know how to describe it,” he said. “I kind of just put my head down and work and whatever happens happens. God has a plan for everyone, so I just trusted in the plan He had for me and it worked out. I thought it was about just improving every day, trying not to make the same mistakes every day and get better and hopefully everything works out. Fortunately, it did and now I just have to make the most of it.”
Defensive end Carlos Dunlap said “there is no dropoff” with rookies like Tupou and Andrew Billings stepping in. The defense featured seven first-year players Sunday.
“Josh got his first game and came out and made some plays,” Dunlap said. “We played 91 snaps yesterday, so it was tough, but our young guys came in ready to play.”
This week, Tupou has a chance to return to his college state, where he looks forward to seeing some of his old teammates who are still with the Buffs. The California native also has an uncle who played for the Broncos in the 1990s, Viliami Mauau.
Tupou said he doesn’t feel any connection to Denver, despite his family history and playing about 30 miles away in Boulder.
“I didn’t go to Denver much, but I’ve still got some friends in Boulder, so it will be good to see some of them at the game,” Tupou said. “Hopefully, I get another chance and can keep helping the team.”