2020 NFL Draft | Prospect film session with North Dakota State DE Derrek Tuszka


I sat down with one of my favorite players in this upcoming draft in North Dakota State DE Derrek Tuszka. He is a wildly underrated player who tallied 13.5 sacks as a senior and was the only edge rusher at the NFL Scouting Combine with a 3-cone time under 7.00 seconds (6.87 seconds).

To start this interview, it is hard to not talk about North Dakota State’s pure dominance in the FCS as they have won seven of the last eight Championships. I asked Tuszka how it felt to not only go out as a Senior with a Championship but being a part of such a great team and culture the last five years:

“It has been incredible. Not only have we had success, but we have also had coaching changes and teams changing over the years. The culture that NDSU has, there is truly nothing like it. To keep repeating this success regardless of what changes is incredible and it has been amazing to be a part of really this last decade. It is just crazy how much success this program has had with the culture it has built.”

I then asked Tuszka how he would compare this last year’s team to teams of the past (he has been a part of four championship teams) and what stood out to him in particular about last year’s team:

“Oh this would probably be similar to the year that Coach Bohl and his staff went to Wyoming. Just with the same number of coaching changes and I think we had the same number of seniors as that class, so I think this past year to that year is a pretty easy comparison to make there.”

Obviously there is a ton of improvement over the course of a college player’s career. I asked Tuszka what area of his game did he feel like he improved the most in his five years at NDSU under these coaching staffs:

“I feel like both mentally and physically the coaches have done an amazing job. Coach Kramer is the strength coach and he is probably the best to do it in all of college football and then you have the coaches who care a lot about the program and the kids and really put us in positions to succeed. This year was pretty cool because I got to spend a lot of time in the offices with the coaches — we had like four or five new coaches this year — and they all said this program is different than any program they have ever been a part of. Just the fact that it is all player led with the upperclassmen holding the younger guys accountable and the coaches being there to put us in areas to succeed. A lot of my improvement and other players’ improvement comes from that player led culture and the coaches putting us in areas where we can succeed.”

The game clips that we will be looking at today are from Tuszka’s game against UC Davis this past year. This game was honestly one of my favorites to watch as he had over 10 pressures, six QB hits, two pressures that led directly to interceptions and a sack. I asked him if he felt going into that game that he was going to have a big week:

“I go into every game thinking that and with that mentality. I take every practice with the intent to make games easy essentially. I went into this game like I do every other one and I knew there would be more opportunities just because UC Davis likes to throw the ball more than most teams. I don’t remember how many plays on offense they had but it had to be close to 90 plays or something so I knew there would be plenty of opportunities to rush. I knew when I got those opportunities I had to make them count because any rush opportunity you get, you gotta make the most of it.”

Clip 1

This first clip is all about persistence and counters. I asked Tuszka how he adjusts as a pass rusher when that first move gets stopped or he gets held up a bit at the point of attack:

“The big thing is just throwing move after move and keeping my feet moving. I always want to be moving towards that ball and getting after it so if that first move doesn’t work, I’m going to go to my second. If the second move doesn’t work, I’m going to go to my third. I’m always going to stay active in my rush. Coach Buddha our defensive end coach always preaches to us to always stay active. There is a lot that goes into this play just to rush the ball that I don’t think people realize. I don’t remember the exact down and distance here — I think it was second-and-10 — but there are a lot of tells with that down and distance and you kind of know what you are going to get. The second I saw that tackle setting, I immediately knew it was pass. I was anticipating a chip but I didn’t get that from the tight end. The tackle tried to get on me quick so I tried to quick throw a chop and his hand was high so you could see I missed it on that first move. I then immediately went to try and fork it up and it just becomes natural enough the more times you do it and you don’t even have to think about your counters when doing it.”

Being bendy and quick around the corner is huge in Tuszka’s game — his favorite move on tape is the dip/rip. I asked him though how big that bend is in his game:

“It’s huge. It happens in almost every rush. You gotta have that bend because you’ll either end up running by the quarterback’s depth or you are going to end up on the ground. Just being able to have that bend helps with all your rushes. It doesn’t really allow those tackles to get their hands on you too well and ultimately it helps finish the play by getting the quarterback and trying to get that ball off the quarterback.”

Clip 2

A big emphasis for pass rushers is having a plan of attack on every rush. I asked Tuszka how he decides what rush move he will do each play and when that decision is made to use a certain rush:

“My first plan of attack in this clip — especially against this formation with an empty backfield so we know it’s a pass — is to just jump off the ball and beat this tackle with speed right off the bat. You can see he reaches and lunges for me so I just react by getting his hands off and keeping low. You can’t block me when I get low and swat the hands and it allows me to get to the quarterback. It wasn’t a sack but anytime the quarterback hits the turf, it’s going to affect him. So a big part of planning your attack is just off the formation and seeing what you can do with what you are given.”

The first step is also so vital for pass rushers. I asked Tuszka where he is aiming for on the tackle with his first step to be able to win with speed around the edge:

“I got a point that I try to picture that just comes with reps. Basically there is a point right behind the tackle that I am trying to beat the tackle to. If I can beat him there, I will win the edge. I’m always trying to work an edge or a half a man as a pass rusher. You don’t want to go right down the middle especially with tackles and their long arms because you want to stay away and keep them off of you. I try to work that half a man by staying on the edge and winning with speed and then if he covers me up then I go to another move and try to stay active in my rush.”

I wanted to ask Tuszka about that point behind the tackle that he is trying to reach as a speed rusher. I asked him if that was something that was taught and preached heavily at NDSU in his career:

“They coached it and Coach Buddha would always try to help out by tweaking our stances a little bit but a lot of it was just feel and whatever works best for us. We always had that point though and Coach Buddha would always preach the importance of moving at the snap of the ball so we can get that extra step on a tackle who may be slow off the snap.”

Clip 3

These two clips are focusing on stunts and twists for a defensive linemen. Tuszka is great on these calls and this will likely be something that he does a lot in the NFL. I asked him what the key is to executing a perfect stunt:

“You have to make everything look the same. You can’t tip anything off from even before the ball is snapped. A big key for me on my rushes is the offensive line and their stance, where they are looking, and the things like that. They think the same way and they are looking at me to see if there is anything I am doing to tip them off. I try to keep everything that I’m doing the same whether there’s some movement or it is a straight rush. It’s real big to keep everything consistent and just taking the reps with these guys too. We take an unbelievable amount of reps throughout the week that way when we get to the game everybody has a feel for everything and it just feels natural in a sense.”

Another big part of stunt work is just being a great pure athlete like Tuszka is. I asked him how much being the athlete that he is helps on calls like this:

“Athleticism certainly helps give me an advantage. I also keep my feet clean which is important especially in this game because that quarterback was getting rid of the ball real quick so you don’t have much time to get back there. You just can’t have any wasted movement so being a good athlete and keeping those feet clean helps me get sacks rather than hits and pressures.”

Clip 4

This clip is fantastic as Tuszka is able to maneuver around the guard for the QB hit. I asked him how important is it to have that quickness in his game especially when slanting inside against guards:

“It’s big especially against those guards. When you can get them in open space when they have big splits like that, that is the last things guards want to do and that is why they are inside. I just gave him a head fake as if I were going down the middle or in the B gap which caused him to lunge as he hoped I was going there. After that, you just quick beat the hands and try to keep it clean getting after the quarterback. Using your athleticism to your advantage is always huge but especially against a guard.”

This clip also made me think of Tuszka’s potential as a wide nine technique in the NFL rushing from that wide stance. I asked him if that would be a comfortable role in the NFL that he thinks he could thrive in:

“Oh yeah definitely. It would probably be easier if I could always play in a wide nine and set the edge and rush from there. I’m always comfortable getting down into a six and rushing from a tighter alignment too. Just the fact that I feel very comfortable in both should help me at the next level.”

Clip 5

Getting hands up is big for defensive linemen in the NFL. Every play won’t be a clean rush so effecting passing lanes even without getting clean is always huge. I asked Tuszka how big this skill set is for defensive linemen:

“The game is all about the ball so if I’m not there getting the sack, I’m getting my hands up to affect the play however I can. Here I beat the tackle really quick and I could sense the screen to my side. As I came around the corner, I saw him looking away and I anticipated him coming back to dump the ball over me for that running back. Like I said though, it is all about the ball and my objective every play is how can I affect the ball and how can I get the ball off the quarterback or whoever has the ball at the time.”

Tuszka’s mentioning of feeling that screen coming back brought up another question I had in mind to ask him. Film study and preparation is vital for every position but I asked him how important it is for him to find tells like that in offenses prior to games:

“I do a lot of film study. I know every guy is kind of different but I found a routine that really worked for me this last season. I watched the positions that I need to in order to play really fast and not have to think. As soon as I see certain alignments or stances, I can diagnose what the play is going to be. It is just so big to know exactly what is coming each week.”

Clip 6

The final film related question I wanted to ask Tuszka about his his go-to move. I feel confident in saying that it appears to center around dip/rip around the corner or just breaking hands in any way he can from my film study but I wanted to know what he thought his go-to move was:

“I only really have a few moves in my rush. I don’t get too crazy with it though. There are some guys who think they need 10 different moves but in my opinion it is better to have two to three moves so you can play a lot faster. The last thing you want to do is overthink things. At the end of the day, you just gotta line up, read your key and go play football. I always try to win with speed but my counter off that is a power or a stab/slap like in this play to get the tackle to lunge. The key is having a few moves to go to and having effective counters off of each of them.”

I concluded this interview with my typical question. I asked Tuszka what my NFL team is getting if they spend a draft pick on him in this class:

“I feel like they are going to know exactly what they are getting: a very passionate football player with a high motor and a very valuable player to the team. I’m versatile enough to play defensive end, outside linebacker and all the special teams even. I feel special teams is huge. We put a huge emphasis at NDSU to be great on special teams and that is part of the reason why we have always been as successful as we have been. The character you are getting off the field is just as, if not more, important because you don’t want to draft players that you’ll have problems with down the road. With me they are just getting a hard working guy who goes to the grindstone and busts his butt doing what he can for the team. Just a team guy who knows how to win and will be everything he can be for the organization and community.”