Tripp-le Your Pleasure

December 31, 2001
Tripp-le Your Pleasure
by Keith Weiland

Houston Head Coach Dom Capers has said he is looking for a “physical, 300-pound defensive lineman, especially in the 3-4 defense”, and he may stop looking once he finds Washington’s nose guard, Larry Tripplett. Tripplett, a former high school fullback, was found creating havoc in a Holiday Bowl loss to the Texas Longhorns on Friday. Against a Longhorn offensive line that may be second only to the Hurricanes’ line in Miami, Tripplett made his presence known by clogging interior rushing lanes and pressuring quarterback Major Applewhite, even deflecting one of his passes.

In addition to pursuing ball carriers, Tripplett is also pursuing a geography degree, but it’s safe to say he knows his way around a football field. At 6’1″ and 300 pounds, his measurements compare favorably to Tampa Bay’s All-Pro defensive tackle, Warren Sapp, though Tripplett’s body shape is not as stocky as Sapp’s.

Regardless, Tripplett patterns his game after Sapp, and he has made a name for himself as a terrific run stuffer. Tripplett has great inside speed after shedding a blocker, something he worked on last summer with Steve Emtman, a former Husky who was the Colts’ number one draft pick in 1992. Emtman helped Tripplett learn how to better chop at an offensive lineman’s hands, a technique that has helped him from getting locked up at the point of attack. Tripplett also battled an NFL-quality center, the Bears’ Olin Kreutz, early in his collegiate career every day in practice. Kreutz instilled in Tripplett the need to go hard on every down.

Tripplett was born with natural power, and even Emtman claims Tripplett is stronger than he ever was. Tripplett has been accused of being too nice at times, but what is true is that this fifth-year senior plays with a ton of heart on every play.

Despite all his talent, it is fair to rate Tripplett behind Tennessee’s John Henderson and Wisconsin’s Wendell Bryant as a defensive line prospect on draft day. He lacks height for an interior lineman in traditional schemes, and after an impressive junior season, the 2001 campaign has done little to elevate his draft status.

Tripplett burst onto the scene last year when his Huskies upset the Hurricanes, derailing their national title hopes. Tripplett, like he was on several other occasions that season, was the star of the game. His pass rush, something he was not necessarily known for, was so overpowering that he even recorded two sacks against an offensive line that almost never gives one up. In that same game, he also blocked a second quarter field goal and recovered a key fourth quarter fumble.

When Tripplett passed on his chance to leave Washington early to go to the NFL last year, he likely expected more out of this season. Despite any disappointment, Tripplett has clearly established himself as the team’s leader – teammates call him “Captain Larry” – and he claims the extra year has made him a more mature and consistent player. He was unable to match last year’s sack total this season, but nose guards do not need to be sackmasters to excel in the NFL. Tripplett has done his job by regularly fighting off double teams to help free up a linebacker.

Where he falls in the 2002 NFL Draft is anyone’s guess right now. With the right team utilizing the right scheme, Tripplett would go somewhere just outside of the top ten picks to the middle of the first round. As it is, he may slip towards the back of the first round as some scouts view his not taking a sizeable leap in performance this year as a sign that he may be nearing his peak. Opposed to both Henderson and Bryant, who seem to be just as well suited to play end as they are tackle, Washington’s experiment at moving Tripplett to the outside was short-lived. They had hoped to free him of the double teams, but he was not the same force as he was from the inside. Still, TFY Draft Preview calls him “tremendously quick” and compares him to former Rams DT D’Marco Farr, only stronger.

There is concern that Tripplett may not require a double team on the next level, something that could cripple his first round draft status. He told Sporting News Radio last Thursday he will get one more shot in game action as a collegian to impress scouts at the Senior Bowl on January 26. Should Tripplett continue to slide down draft boards and free fall out of the first round, Capers should be thrilled to find that physical lineman he is looking for in Tripplett with the team’s first selection in the second round.

Keith Weiland lists his three favorite captains as Crunch, Caveman, and Kangaroo.