The most hotly sought after player that the Raiders signed in free agency wasn’t starting RG Mike Brisiel, starting LB Philip Wheeler or former starting CBs Ron Bartell or Shawntae Spencer, it was former Giants backup DE Dave Tollefson. When the Raiders signed him to a 2 year contract there were reportedly offers or interest from other teams as well including the Giants, where he had played since 2007, Titans, Packes and Seahawks.
Naturally with such interest in the 29 year former 7th round pick, I was interested to see what made him such a desirable commodity.
First of all, it’s clear that Tollefson is versatile. While he played RDE, mostly, he also bounced in to right DT on obvious passing downs and played a handful of snaps at LDE and LDT as well. Reportedly he also can play LB but I never saw him do this – when he was in the game, he always lined up on the line.
It is almost certainly this versatility that teams desired as they can use him for a number of backup spots and also on special teams in order to provide a good return on their money and use other roster spots for players with more individual skills.
I watched two games of the Giants from 2011, week 4 against Arizona and week 13 vs Green Bay.
One of the first things that jump out is that he’s nowhere near as big as the other Giants DEs. He’s listed at 6’4″ 266, which is comparable to what other Giants players like Justin Tuck, Jean Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora are listed as being. However, when he’s standing next to them, he’s not nearly as bulky.
That lack of bulk effects his style of play. He lacked the body strength to be able to hold his own with large offensive linemen and consistently ended up being pancaked or simply walled away from the quarterback or running back.
On running plays he was not able to hold his own at the point of attack and was able to be pushed back and away from the play by the lead blockers.
On some obvious passing situations he substituted in as an extra rusher from the DT position which was almost laughable because he already seemed undersized as a DE and was completely unable to provide pressure from a DT position where he couldn’t use his speed to his advantage.
Tollefson’s speed is his biggest advantage. He has a good first step and is able to get around tackles that do not have quick feet by running deep around the tackle and up behind or to the side of the QB.
Unfortunately, Tollefson has a tendency to attempt to run around the opposing tackle on most every play. There was at least one circumstance in which he did so and the opposting QB – Aaron Rodgers in this case – simply ran off the right guard right at the area Tollfeson had vacated for a 13 yard scramble while Tollfeson was 7 yards deep into the backfield trying to get around the right tackle for a sack.
Tollefson doesn’t have a good variety of moves, either, tending to use his speed more than anything else. If you watch tape of some of the best pass rushing 4-3 DEs – like Dwight Freeney or Jared Allen – they employ a variety of moves to confuse and confound their opponents. Good DEs will use bull rushing moves where they use their strength to push the tackle back into the QB and collapse the pocket but mix in spin moves, swim moves to part between guards and tackles and also use speed to come around the edge.
Tollefson didn’t show any proficiency in any moves other than the speed manuever. When he attemped to engage the OT he was consistently unable to provide any sort of pressure by collapsing the pocket.
On the plus side, Tollefson had a great motor and never gave up on plays that I saw. He would consistently fight at the line of scrimmage and some of his best plays were ones in which he wasn’t able to get past the OT but kept moving his feet and moving laterally and making a tackle at or right near the line of scrimmage on a QB or RB who had moved up to run.
Tollefson used his hands well to fend off the OT, in general. There were times in which he allowed the OT to get hands on his body and those plays usually ended up with him on the ground but in general he could fend away the OT and keep his feet moving in an attempt to work around the line. It was this use of hands that allowed him to get the tackles mentioned in the previous paragraph.
Tollefson will best be used as a pass rushing DE, perhaps in relief of RDE Lamarr Houston who played DT in college and is big for a DE at 305 lbs. Houston is stout at the point of attack against the run but isn’t a great pass rusher.
It seems quite possible that Tollefson would be able to be a good OLB in a 3-4 alignment, especially if he played the Joker position that blitzes the QB.
Overall, I support this move because he does have strengths and is versatile and also, reportedly, a great locker room addition. He doesn’t have the physical skills to be a starter but he doesn’t have to be a starter except when needed due to injury.
Also, his contract costs are in no way cap prohibitive and the salary seems in line with his production.
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