When the Raiders defense signed local product, Dave Tollefson in the offseason, it was a popular move among the fans. The East Bay native chose to return to the Raiders where he spent his first NFL training camp primarily because of his love for his home team. But the Raiders' reasons for signing him were more for football reasons.
Tollefson fits with what this team is doing so well that his wanting to come back home is almost merely a coincidence. All that served to do was make it easier for the Raiders to convince him to sign with them. The Raiders would have pursued him regardless of outside factors. They wanted what he brings to the table on the field.
It is no accident that Tollefson has a couple Super Bowl rings. For the past few seasons he has been part of one of the best defensive lines in football. The New York Giants have been able to win two Super Bowls in the past five seasons with that defensive line. Tollefson brings that experience with him to the Raiders.
"What I brought to the table in New York as far as the backup that could really step in and start, I could see that being a similar role here," Said Tollefson. "A guy that is gonna bring more depth because I think it's more apparent the better your D-line is as a whole, the better your D-line is. It's all of a sudden these guys that are starters, they're starting to find out they need guys that can play too because that's a tough deal too down in the trenches sixty, seventy snaps a game. You need someone to relieve those guys and I think between me, Lamarr, and Matt, you got a group of guys that can split up a good amount of reps amongst ourselves."
The big thing with him is his experience moving around the defensive line while with the Giants. Though he was primarily a defensive end, at times he would line up at defensive tackle. That is especially impressive for a guy who was all of 250 pounds when he played defensive tackle in New York.
He sees a similar defensive front flexibility in the current Raiders' roster
"I feel like now, especially up front, we've got a few guys that can move around," said Tollefson. "Lamarr [Houston] is a 290, 295 pound guy that plays end and can play inside. You got Dez who's played a lot of end, the more the better. That's kinda what we hung our hat on in New York, you never knew anybody was gonna line up so if we can do that, it's only gonna bring more success for the entire group really."
When I spoke with Houston, he told me he had actually taken off some weight and is now playing at 285. If Tollefson can play DT at 250 pounds, Houston can certainly do it at 285. He said the team plans on playing him inside as well as outside in the new defense. And with the experience Tollefson has had dealing sliding inside to face physical NFL interior linemen, he is a great resource for a young defensive end.
"Me and Dave talk," said Houston. "He's a vet. Anything he can give me, I can pick up and help my technique... Just working on my get off, my eyes, my hand placement and things like that. Just helping with the guards, you know, how they jumpset or overset or set inside heavy, certain things like that."
In addition to Tollefson's advice and instruction and reserve defensive line duties, he is also expected to play some linebacker in certain sets along with on special teams. He has been part of the primary return team. For the five-year defensive end, it's all part of the package.
"There's some fluidity in the defensive system [here]," said Tollefson. "And obviously if you go back and look at what I've done in my career the last five or six years is the jack of all trades. I kind of hang my hat on. ‘If we need a guy in this position, let's put Dave in and see what he can do.' And I've done well. I think that's a big part of why I'm here is I'm a guy they know they can rely on who's going to understand the playbook, not just as a defensive lineman but as a linebacker and even as a defensive back, coverage wise, and they can plug me in and know that the job gets done."
The kinds of benefits a team receives from having a player like Tollefson around may not always show in the stat column but it will certainly show in the win column.