Pita Taumoepenu may be defensive end. Or, he could be an outside linebacker. The rookie from Utah is a bit of an NFL tweener as a 6-foot-1, 243-pounder.
Yet, as far as the 49ers are concerned, Taumoepenu, a sixth-round pick in the recent NFL draft, can create his own position with the way he plays in training camp and exhibition games. If he shows the speed and athletic ability he did at Utah, he could become a high-impact situational pass rusher for the Niners.
San Francisco general manager John Lynch says Taumoepenu has a never-stop motor and drive second to none. Taumoepenu, who grew up in Tonga as a rugby player, could be a perfect fit for the 49ers’ new shifting 4-3 defense, wrote Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee. He could see time at the “Leo” defensive end position on the weak side (without the tight end), where speed is a key asset.
“You need someone with great speed and you need someone with relentless effort,” Lynch told reporters recently about Taumoepenu. “And that’s the one thing that jumped off the screen. He can run and he plays with his hair on fire.”
Taumoepenu was a multi-purpose pass-rush specialist at Utah who started just four games last season. Yet, he had 34 tackles (including nine for loss), nine sacks and forced three fumbles. In his final two seasons for the Utes he had 13 sacks and 45 tackles.
Taumoepenu says the prospect of being cast as a situational pass rusher is an exciting opportunity for him.
“I never stop and I’ve always felt like I’ve always been good at it,” he said. “I’m looking forward to joining the Niners and helping them.”
There will be a battle for playing time at the Leo spot, however. During recent organized team activities, Arik Armstead was the starter, with veteran outside linebacker Aaron Lynch, second-year lineman Ronald Blair and Taumoepenu all getting snaps.
Whether it’s at defensive end, linebacker or on special teams, Taumoepenu figures to bring a fire to the 49ers that could be infectious, if his pre-draft scouting report by ESPN analysts proves accurate.
“Motor runs hot and he is constantly locked in fifth gear,” it read. “Relentless as a pass rusher. Fights with everything he has at the point of attack. Loves to chase.”