Dalvin Tomlinson was listed last year as a defensive tackle in the Vikings’ 4-3 defense. This season he’s listed on the roster simply as a defensive lineman in a 3-4 scheme, but he prefers to be more specific.
“I’m playing defensive end right now,” said the 6-foot-3, 325-pound Tomlinson. “It makes me feel a little bit more athletic.”
The first-team line so far training camp mostly has featured Harrison Phillips at nose tackle flanked by Tomlinson and Armon Watts at defensive end. Tomlinson said he expects to rotate sides with Watts this season and also play some at the nose when Phillips isn’t in the game.
So what’s different for Tomlinson now from when he was primarily a three-technique defensive tackle last season in the 4-3? First-year head coach Kevin O’Connell said it’s “not all that different,” especially when the Vikings are in a nickel defense and have four-down linemen. They were in the nickel about two-thirds of the time last season.
Still, the Vikings, in new defensive coordinator Ed Donatell’s 3-4 scheme, will be putting more of a premium on Tomlinson as a pass rusher.
“The biggest thing people think about when affecting the quarterback, always, is those edge players (who) … register those double-digit sacks,” said O’Connell, who has a pair of top-notch edge rushers in linebackers Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith. “It’s easy to talk about that because we can see that, but I think the underrated thing is the push in the pocket. Getting those interior guys to understand that they hit a gap, they push their one-on-one block, or they take a double team right back into the lap of the quarterback.”
Tomlinson, who signed a two-year, $21 million contract in March 2021 after four years with the New York Giants, was solid last season for the Vikings, ranking 16th among NFL interior defensive linemen, according to Pro Football Focus. But some of his pass-rushing stats were down from 2020; his sacks fell from 3½ to 2½ and quarterback hits from 10 to seven.
“I just want to be more disruptive and get to the quarterback a lot more than last year,” Tomlinson said.
Tomlinson, who has a reputation for being more of a run stopper, said he “wants more sacks” but didn’t put a number on it. He’s optimistic about putting it all together in 2022.
“I feel the sky is the limit for me as long as I come out here and grind and get better each and every day and continue to build on what we have right now, and I feel I can improve as much as I want to,” Tomlinson said.
Tomlinson said adjusting to Donatell’s 3-4 alignment has not been difficult since he played in a similar scheme in college, at Alabama from 2013-16, and was mostly in a 3-4 with the Giants. Phillips, who played in a 4-3 the past four years with Buffalo, said Tomlinson’s knowledge of the defense has been a big asset.
“I’ll kind of turn around after seeing something on film and ask him, ‘Hey, would we have played this this way?.’ ” Phillips said
Phillips said Tomlinson’s “veteranship” has been important during training camp. O’Connell and Donatell also have talked about Tomlinson being one of the leaders on defense.
“He’s had a good camp,” Donatell said. “He’s working toward getting his weight where he wants it, and he’s showing that speed and quickness. He’s a delight to have in the room with our guys, a real pro.”