Tollefson brings championship pedigree back to Raiders


Tollefson brings championship pedigree back to Raiders

Dave Tollefson was channeling his inner Lloyd Christmas during a conference call with Bay Area media on Tuesday afternoon.The newest Raiders defensive lineman, signed as a free agent on Saturday after five years and two Super Bowl rings with the New York Giants, was asked how his championship pedigree would rub off on his new teammates.RELATED: Signing with Raiders homecoming for Tollefson
"I don't know much, but there's a few things I do know," Tollefson said after a brief pause. "And one of them is getting in the tournament. I mean, you've got to have a chance. If you're not in the tournament -- which is playoffs when I say that -- you don't have a chance."I always like to quote my favorite movie "Dumb and Dumber," when he was asking what are the chances a girl like (you) and a guy like (me) can be together and she says, 'One in a million.'"The character of Christmas, played by Jim Carey in the 1994 film, was anything but crestfallen."And Jim Carey says, 'So you're saying there's a chance,'" Tollefson recounted with a laugh. "Just to have the opportunity to play for the title and get in the playoffs, that's all you need. And then you take it one game at a time and next thing you know you're hoisting up the Lombardi Trophy. There's no secret to winning championships. It's just a matter of doing the work and when it comes to playoff time, taking advantage of the opportunities."In Gotham, the Walnut Creek native who grew up in Concord and played at Ygnacio Valley High was a role player, of sorts, on the Giants' fearsome defensive line. Drafted by Green Bay in the seventh round (No. 253 overall) of the 2006 draft out of Northwest Missouri State and later being a member of the Raiders' practice squad, Tollefson played behind and alongside some of the game's best at the position and contributed his own flavor.Michael Strahan. Osi Umenyiora. Justin Tuck."It's huge, man." Tollefson said. "To be the best, you've got to be around the best, you've got to be surrounded by people that are successful in order for yourself to be successful. So being with those group of guys for that period of time was really special."I just got here (to Oakland) today, my first workout in today, but there's a group of guys here that can play ball up front, too, which is exciting to see. I'm not quite an old, wily vet yet. I've got a few years left in me. I think I've seen quite a bit in this league and they got a group of guys here that can do some big things also. I look back fondly on my time with those guys (in New York). It was special, for sure, but you can't dwell on the past. You've got to keep going forward and make the future."The 6-foot-4, 266-pound Tollefson has started just two of the 62 career games in which he's played and he's not expected to replace either Lamarr Houston or a physically-healed Matt Shaughnessy in the starting lineup. Rather, he's expected to provide a boost off the bench and on special teams.Last season, Tollefson, 29, played in all 16 regular season games with the two starts and had career highs in tackles (21) and sacks (five). In his career, he has 81 tackles (56 solo), with 10 sacks, five passes defensed and three forced fumbles.RELATED: Dave Tollefson 2011 game logs
So what does he anticipate his on-field role being in Oakland?"You know, I think it's the multiplicitywhat I can do as a player," he said. "I played a lot of snaps inside. Will I do that here? I'm not quite sure. We've got a great groups of D tackles that can do a really good job inside. So I think that's what intrigued the Raiders about me, just the ability to do anything. And that's something that you have to do as a guy that hasn't necessarily started in this league."I've started a couple of games but you kind of got to be good at everything because you really don't know when an opportunity's going to come for you to contribute to a team winning a game. So I think that's what, hopefully, they're going to use me for. Just kind of, whatever, what do you need me to do? I can even mow the grass if you want to."Rather, the Raiders would prefer he mow down opposing running backs.The Raiders' run defense has been an Achilles' heel in recent years. Last season, the Raiders ranked 27th against the run, giving up 136.1 yards per game on the ground. The Giants, meanwhile, were 19th, with a 121.2 average."You've got to be physical and I think sometimes run defense can be overshadowed by a want to get sacks because that's considered to be such game-changing plays," Tollefson said. "But I'm always thinking you've got earn the right to rush the passer and the way you do that is by stopping the run. That's going to be a focus of mine no matter what, and I think it will be the guys' (focus) up front."You've got to do it up front and obviously the linebackers are named linebackers because they back the line. If the guys up front aren't getting the job done, it doesn't matter who you have behind you. It's definitely going to be a focus of ours -- stop the run -- because if you can't stop the run you better not even start thinking about getting sacks, because they'll just run the ball all day on you."

Why firing Ken Norton Jr. won't solve the Raiders' bigger, deeper problems

Why firing Ken Norton Jr. won't solve the Raiders' bigger, deeper problems

ALAMEDA – Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio was twice asked about making in-season changes at his Monday press conference.

He wouldn’t rule it out. Del Rio said he would do anything necessary to help the team “win now,” and later said "we're not getting into staff questions this week."

Then he fired Ken Norton Jr. the next day, hoping the dismissal will provide a spark.

It might. More likely, it might not do enough.

It is a shot across the bow at its base, a signal that subpar play won't be tolerated. 

“We played under our talent level,” defensive tackle Justin Ellis said, “Those things come with consequences.”

New play caller John Pagano has a unique style and knows how to bring creative pressure, disguise a simple play as complex and exploit weak links, but he won’t be using his system this season. He’ll still be working within Norton/Del Rio’s scheme and, more importantly, he’s still playing chess with existing, often inferior pieces. The Raiders understand that, and likely won't judge him on this final stretch alone. 

Why? The defense doesn’t have enough talent in the secondary, the interior defensive line or the inside linebacker corps. That’s not on Norton or Pagano.

Pagano can’t do a thing about an offense struggling mightily to catch passes, block consistently and let plays develop downfield.

The Raiders have some major talent problems, with rush and coverage rarely working together as desired. That, and some uninspired schematics, have produced awful statistics.

The Raiders don’t have an interception, and are the first team to go 10 games without a pick. They’re on track to have the second-worst opposing completion percentage (72.3) and passer rating (113.3) in NFL history, per the Associated Press.

They’re also last in sacks for the second straight year, with just 14 this season despite having reigning defensive player of the year Khalil Mack.

They're thin because last year's second and third round picks, Jihad Ward and Shilique Calhoun aren't contributing. This year's draft class had to make an immediate impact, but Gareon Conley played two games, Obi Melifonwu spent eight games on IR and Eddie Vanderdoes as underwhelmed after a promising start.

Highly paid free agents haven't performed well enough, and many could be shown the door.

It’s possible roughly half of the starting lineup doesn’t return next season, with Sean Smith, Reggie Nelson, Bruce Irvin and NaVorro Bowman likely out the door as free agents or roster cuts.

In sum, this isn’t all Norton’s fault.

He was, however, the easiest cut. You can’t fire players en masse during the year, and Pagano was an easy replacement without disrupting the position coaches. Pagano has extensive experience calling plays. He was the then-San Diego Chargers’ defensive coordinator from 2012-16.

Norton wasn’t an innovative play caller. He was passed over for coordinator jobs while serving as Seattle’s linebackers coach, after Gus Bradley and Dan Quinn were hired as head coaches. Del Rio, who played with Norton in Dallas back from 1989-91, hired Norton shortly after being hired by the Raiders.

The Raiders' defense has never been good under Norton/Del Rio, and Norton was on a hot seat most of last season. It was surprising when Pagano was hired that Norton was retained and allowed to continue despite underwhelming performance.

Norton was immensely popular in the locker room, especially with members of the front seven. Mack and Irvin in particular were Norton guys. Norton and Irvin go way back to Irvin’s Seattle days, where the coach helped the player get and stay on the right path.

That’s why this firing was deeply felt on Tuesday. The players were told in an afternoon meeting, following a walk-through focused on corrections from Sunday’s New England loss.

"The axe came down on everybody," free safety Reggie Nelson said. "Everybody felt it in this building. Players, we love Norton, regardless. Unfortunately, the production wasn't a high standard this year and it's a production league. He's not playing. We are.”

The Raiders are 4-6, and can’t afford to lose many more games. They might need to be perfect down the stretch to avoid a messy tiebreaker situation. That’s a tough ask for a team that’s been woefully inconsistent on both sides. This team was always expected to shoot for the middle defensively and have a potentially great offense score points by the bushel.

The offense has been most disappointing, performing far below its pay grade and talent level. There was no movement on that side of the ball. The Raiders hope, with fingers firmly crossed, this defensive change provide the spark necessary to create turnovers and quarterback pressure than has been lacking in a disastrous season to this point.

Raiders fire defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.

Raiders fire defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.

Ken Norton Jr.'s time with the Raiders is up.

With the team underperforming, Oakland has fired Norton as the defensive coordinator, the team announced Tuesday afternoon. John Pagano will handle the play calling duties when the Raiders take on the Broncos this Sunday.

Head coach Jack Del Rio issued the following statement regarding the news:

“After careful thought, I have made a difficult decision to part ways with Ken Norton, Jr. as defensive coordinator. I have the utmost respect for Ken as a person and as a coach, but I feel that moving John Pagano into the play-calling role will best utilize his wealth of experience. I appreciate Ken’s passion and commitment to the Raiders since coming aboard and wish him the best going forward.”

The Raiders defense under Norton this season ranks 26th in the NFL in yards allow per game (367.0), is allowing 24.7 points per game and has yet to record an interception through 10 games.

"We played under our talent level. Those things come with consequences," defensive lineman Justin Ellis told reporters shortly after the news broke.

"The axe fell on all of us. We love Coach Norton. We didn’t want to see this happen," safety Reggie Nelson said.

Norton joined Del Rio's staff prior to the 2015 season.