Raiders newest Free Agent acquisition (for now) is Dave Tollefson, a contributor to the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants defense. For the Giants, he was the 4th or 5th defensive lineman, stepping in to relieve starters like DE Justin Tuck, or DTs Linval Joseph and Chris Canty, playing a role similar to Desmond Bryant's for the Raiders in 2011.
He has good but not great size at 6'4" 266. Shows good but not great strength. Has good but not great speed and mobility. Shows very good discipline and technique. Has great tenacity and energy. Basically the type of hard-working, self-made guy that every team has. To find out what's so special about Dave Tollefson that Reggie McKenzie had to outbid 2 other teams for him, I took a look back at what he has shown this past year in 2011.
It seems like he's an above-average lineman with an interesting combination of skills. His most notable weakness is a lack of burst; he just has very little explosion and doesn't have much of a "get off" from the line of scrimmage. His primary strength is his physical strength combined with great leverage (technique). He's a blue-collar, hard-working, high-motor guy. Is he a tough-guy, pure football player like fellow McKenzie-recruit Mike Briseil? It looks that way and we'll find that out this year.
For a relatively big man, his mobility is very good. Dave Tollefson is listed at 6'4", 266 lbs. Compared to similarly-sized Kam Wimbley (6'4" 255), Tollefson seems to have better lateral movement, is more fluid, and less stiff, though he's also noticeably far less explosive.
His first two steps at the snap of the ball are a bit slow (relatively speaking). At times it also seems like his reaction time is a bit slow, allowing the opposing linemen to get set up before engaging. It's hard to say if this is a talent/ability issue or an indication of his role. He is a "step away"-player, meaning he usually seems to be one step away from making a play. He really isn't a play maker and while his football speed is pretty good, he's just not able to close on runners or explode off blocks. He will often get very near plays with the ball carrier (or QB) just out of reach.
He had 5 sacks this past year, but from the look of his pass rush, those were likely due to scheme and/or coverage. It is not likely that he will reach that sack number, perhaps even over the course of two years and I would be disappointed if that's why McKenzie brought him in. That's not really his game, even if he were to have played full-time at the Defensive End position.
He is versatile and plays all positions up and down the line, in both 4-man and 3-man lines (which Perry Fewell used to great success). He's surprisingly effective as a DT despite being undersized for the position, though it accounts for why he may be disruptive but rarely able to finish and make the play.
He has excellent technique, accounting for why he can actually play against much bigger and stronger players. Redskins right tackle Jammal Brown is 6'6" 313 and Tollefson on multiple plays gets into him and just drives him backwards. Awesome to see.
He also often keeps blockers at arm's length allowing him to disengage or track down the line. And he generally plays his discipline very well, though on a few occasions he has given up backside contain for big yardage.
It's hard to think of him as a full-time starter, especially when you compare him against the Raiders' starting front 4 (Houston, Kelly, Seymour, Shaughnessy), but he's the type that should light a fire under the players ahead of him and so could make Desmond Bryant and Lamar Houston (and perhaps even Richard Seymour) take notice.
He is a team-first, a complementary player, content to take on the "unsexy" assignments, take on the tough duties, and let the glory go to the other players. We might not notice his contribution, but it shows up in the film room.
Another note about his versatility; if I say that he plays all the positions on the line, you might think, "Ok, that means he plays 4 positions." Incorrect. He plays SEVEN positions (maybe even 8). He plays DE and DT on both sides in a 4-man front and DE and NT on 3-man fronts and he can be a stand-up pass rusher in a 3-man front if needed (though his results were really not that good from a 2-pt stance).
That versatility/hybrid ability and experience will prove very valuable with Tarver and Allen implementing multiple fronts. We now have 2 players, Seymour and Tollefson, with experience in 3-4 alignments and theoretically, Kelly, Shaughnessy, and Houston have skillsets that should allow them to play in various positions in both alignments.
It's hard to get too excited over a Swing Defensive Lineman. In essence the Raiders replaced Trevor Scott with Dave Tollefson and while that appears to be an upgrade (especially considering Scott's injury), it's not a huge one. It's not like they stole a hidden gem like Justin Tuck who was buried on a depth chart; they got a very solid, above-average defensive lineman to work into the rotation. If he keeps Seymour fresh into the 4th quarter of games and into the 4th quarter of the Season, he's done his job and made an impact on the team's success on the whole.
The Raiders need backups and the quality of those backups helps to build the character of the entire team. With the way the NFL is played these days and with Seymour and Kelly getting up there in age as well as the loss of John Henderson, there's going to be plenty of snaps for Tollefson to take at the Tackle position. At present, the roster really only has Shaughnessy and Houston at the End positions and so the team will be highly dependant on Bryant's and Tollefson's versatility.
The the addition of Dave Tollefson is a good one; it's not a game-changer and HE's not a game-changer. But it is one of those building-block moves that could help in the next 2-3 years as the Raiders build a unified team. Tollefson, Brisiel, Wheeler, Bartell all have the look of pure football players and the kind of attitude and mindset that can form the core of a team.
The Raiders are no longer interested in bullies. They want football players-- TOUGH football players. The 2011 Raiders wanted to break someone's legs. The 2012 Raiders will play with a broken leg... and win the game. That's the direction they're headed. Dave Tollefson's not going to take them there alone, but he's a good piece to have on that journey. I'm looking forward to seeing him and the front-seven develop.
Here are a few more video cutups of Dave Tollefson so you can see for yourself what he did and how he looked. Let me know what you think of him and how you think he'll be used. In Weeks 1, 3, (above) and 16, the Giants have injuries and Tollefson gets over 40 plays in each game. In most of the other games, he's in the rotation and is getting around 20 plays. Enjoy.
Week 3 Eagles : [http://www.raiders.ninjagoro.com/?p=3504]
Week 9 Patriots : [http://www.raiders.ninjagoro.com/?p=3510]
Week 11 Eagles : [http://www.raiders.ninjagoro.com/?p=3514]
Week 15 Redskins : [http://www.raiders.ninjagoro.com/?p=3518]