Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham
August 25, 2020
Q: A couple of things. Can you talk about the value that you and Joe (Judge) put on smarts in players? I have another one for you after that.
A: I can’t speak for Joe, but for me, I think it’s important. You want guys who have some good football awareness and instincts, so I guess that factors into the smart part. The biggest thing is, I could care less about what he is off the field. Not in a bad way, but I could care less about off the field. But on the field, are they able to figure out what the offense is doing? Can they process multiple things that we may give them on a given play? I do think you put a high value on that because it helps you be more multiple, it helps you to do more things. Just more aware players end up making more plays.
Q: You and Jason (Garrett) share a unique bond. You’re both Ivy Leaguers. There are not a lot of coordinators in the NFL who are Ivy Leaguers. Do you talk about that much, share your experiences? Is there a pride factor in that?
A: We’ve talked about it before briefly, but nothing big. I wasn’t a good player. He was a good player. It’s a totally different situation. He was actually playing in the games. I was really just sitting there on the sideline making sure to keep the bench warm. It was a little different experience. But I’m proud of being a member of that fraternity, if you want to think of it that way. There have been a lot of great players and a lot of great coaches from those schools.
Q: You said you didn’t play much at Yale, but you did go to Yale, right?
A: Yeah, no question. I was on the team. I tell people I was on the team. They’re like, ‘You played at Yale?’ I say ‘I was on the team. I practiced at Yale.’
Q: You went to classes at Yale, too, though, right?
A: Yes, yes. I enjoyed my experience. I enjoyed my experience.
Q: We were talking to Julian Love the other day and he was talking about how he spent most of his career bouncing around from position to position. A lot of times in a scheme, that’s not a good thing. It seems like that’s almost the perfect thing for something like you’re trying to run here. How does he fit into this rotation, into this fluid secondary that you’re trying to put together?
A: I think the thing about Love that stands out, piggybacking off the previous question, he is a smart football player, on and off the field, in terms of his awareness with the situations, awareness of personnel the offense is giving us. The fact that he’s able to see that and dissect that, that’s been a good thing for us. The fact that he’s played multiple positions, whether he’s been a corner, whatever he’s played, that’s a positive because it gives us an opportunity to use his skillsets. Whether it’s covering a receiver from coming down, or covering a receiver and he’s down there, covering a back from depth or lining up to cover a back, he can use his skillset to handle that. Because he understands the bigger picture, because he’s played in multiple spots, it makes it even more interchangeable if that makes sense.
Q: I like your old-school hat too by the way.
A: Oh thanks. My brother got this for me.
Q: I wanted to ask you about something Coach Judge said to us a little while ago. He complimented you for taking Miami’s defense last year, building it and then by the end of the year, it was starting to play really well. I just wanted to go back to that for a second. When you have all kinds of holes, all kinds of questions, just putting it all together, what was the key for you, especially since you had so many young players there like you do now?
A: First off, I appreciate that but any improvement is really the players and Coach (Brian) Flores’ vision in terms of what he wanted us to do as a defense and how we grew over the time I was there. But in terms of what I try to do as a coach, I tell them all the time, I focus on their fundamentals. Football position, where are their eyes, are we playing with our hands, are we playing with a good base? I really think that’s a majority of what I’m coaching. Then once we get into the season, I started to introduce those guys, especially when you’re dealing with young players, NFL football. It’s different. It’s just a different game. It’s people based. You have to know who you’re going against. It’s not, ‘Oh, we’re running Pat Graham’s scheme.’ It’s not that. It’s about ‘Ok, who do we have and how can we take advantage of their weaknesses? Who do they have that we have to take away?’ As you build through the year, you try to introduce that and teach those guys those aspects. It takes time. To be honest with you, it takes time. Once they get it, it doesn’t matter… It’s third and seven, but does it matter what I call or does it matter do we know who they’re throwing the ball to? Does that make sense? It takes time for them to get over the fact, ‘Ok, I’m playing outside leverage, it’s cover one, I’m going to post safety blah blah blah.’ Then to the point where it’s, ‘Ok, they’re throwing the ball to 83. We have to take him away. What are my tools to do that?’ It takes time to build that. It’s not just third down. It’s early down, red area, wherever it may be. But it takes some time to do that. Just like anything, when you’re teaching, I don’t want to say kids but the young players, inexperienced players, they need to experience that in order for them to grow and really be able to utilize their tools because they make all the decisions out there on the field. It’s split-second decisions. That’s why they’re the elite of the elite. You just try to do your best job to get them ready for those moments.
Q: I wanted to ask you about your two rookie defensive backs. Darnay (Holmes) seems like he’s been a pleasant surprise, especially with his ball skills. And just what you’ve seen from Xavier McKinney so far with the guys being out there for a whole week, then with the scrimmage, obviously, this past Friday.
A: Both of those guys… It’s not just them. We have a bunch of young guys that are working their tails off. But they come in, they go to work. Darnay and Zay, I call him Zay, but Darnay and Zay go to work. They come in, they’re prepared, they’re ready for meetings. I think they’re being really diligent outside of the building in terms of they’re coming in with the right questions the next day. You can tell they’ve already watched the tape before we even get to it because they’re being real serious about their craft. I can appreciate that because a lot of times, it takes a while to learn that. They didn’t have the spring to be around the vets. Ok, you don’t have the spring to be around the vets, so how are you learning that? They’re kind of catching up right now and understanding the work that you have to put into it. But it’s been a positive. Whether it’s a surprise or not, I can’t speak on that, but we wanted these guys for a reason. Our scouting department and Mr. (Dave) Gettleman, they did a great job of IDing these guys as people we want on our team through collaboration with the coaching staff. But these guys, they’re good kids, they work hard, they still have a ways to go, and they know that. Thankfully, well I don’t know if they’ll say thankfully, but we remind them they have a ways to go all the time. But they’re working hard and hopefully it all comes to fruition out there on the field if we keep going through this.
Q: Obviously, you guys were thrown a bit of curveball expecting DeAndre Baker to be there, especially on the outside. Is there anything about what you’ve seen from Darnay that makes you think he can thrive at that outside spot?
A: The thing I found out about the NFL, every year, every week, every day is different. You don’t want to get caught off guard by surprises or whatever it may be. Every day is different. Then guys that are here are the guys we are working with. All these guys are competing for the spots out on the field. There are eleven spots on the field any given down. Based on the situation, based on what game and who is available. Those guys are all competing. To speak specifically about Darnay or Zay, they are all out there competing for spots. I don’t know who is going to be out there, we could have four corners out there, we could have two corners out there. They are all learning multiple spots trying to figure out the more I can do, the more value I have. The easier it is to make the team, the more value you have, if that makes sense.
Q: When we talk about the pass rush, I think a big part of it is the interior part as well. It sometimes gets overlooked. You don’t have a lot of guys there with huge track records as pass rushers. Maybe Leonard Williams is the only one as a real pass rusher. When you look at your outside guys, do you look at which ones could potentially help you by moving and sliding inside on rushing downs.
A: To me, when you are talking about the interior of the pass rush, whether it’s third down, early down or whatever it may be, you are talking about some push in the middle. You are looking for some push. In this league, we run around the edges all the time, the quarterback is going to step up and make the easier throw in the middle. We have to get some push. That could be with the big guys, that could be with the smaller guys. I think we evaluate the whole roster in terms of that. The more the guys can do, the better off we will be. Do I like to mix in a defensive end on the inside? Absolutely, because it’s a different skill set going in there over a guard, over a center. Do we like to use a backer to maybe be the inside part of the pass rush? Not to harp on (inaudible) or anything, but I just think it’s important for him to understand what we’re talking about with the pass rush. We want to contain the quarterback and we want to make sure we are getting push up the middle. We want to really cage that guy up and then guys win their one on one battles and that’s how we get some production in terms of the sacks, the QB hits and things of that nature. I like to mix it up because we want to try to highlight each guy’s talent. If Pat Graham is rushing, my talent might be better suited for the guard as opposed to for a tackle. Your skills might be better suited for a tackle. It’s all interchangeable in my opinion and the guys are embracing it.
Q: Heading into Friday night, I know Joe has said, even last week in the intrasquad, that you and Jason were going to try and go live. How much more intensity or urgency do you feel come Friday night. Knowing that we’re here and you are doing a great job explaining everything and keep saying it’s going to take time, but also know the finish line is coming up September 14th. Do you feel that urgency of needing to get this team ready to go on the defensive side of the ball?
A: Right, wrong or indifferent, I feel urgency every day. I wake up in the morning, and I don’t know if there is enough hours in the day to get done what I want to get done. We try to plan that out. I think realistically the goals you set in terms of installation, in terms of awareness, you have to plan that out throughout the year. We have to be ready to go for Pittsburgh, there’s no question. Do I feel the urgency of that? Absolutely. Less than 21 days and here we go, we are playing one of the best teams in the world. There’s some urgency. With a good quarterback, good backs, good o-line, great head coach. You are dealing with a lot there. You have to trust the process. The beauty of working for Joe is his vision and how he has set it out since he got the job. We know what we want it to look like. We are trying to build towards that, we want to be a tough team. We want that the jump off the film. We have to put in the necessary work over the next 20 days to make sure we get there for that. The head coach set the vision, we know what we want it to look like. We don’t want to beat ourselves with dumb penalties. We want to eliminate bad football. We want to make sure on defense we can tackle, get off blocks, defend the deep part of the field. We laid out the plan for that, now it’s all about executing. Do we have 20 days left? Yeah, we have 20 days left to do it. We have to figure it out. Everybody is in the same boat. Everybody else is dealing with 19 days besides us, the Steelers, San Fran and whoever else the Monday night game is. Twenty-eight other teams are dealing with 19 days. Everybody has to feel that urgency. In this league, if you don’t feel a sense of urgency every single day, you will get passed by.
Q: Will you do any game planning whatsoever for your guys for Friday night?
A: I think realistically to help them play fast, you have to cut the menu and explain to them what the menu is for the night. For myself mentally, what you realize is, you are rusty, too. The first time you are calling it live and oh, am I seeing the situations, am I hearing everything the right way? In order to get myself working towards the process of getting ready for a game, you have to cut it down, it helps the players cut it down. So I can make sure I am in tune with the situations, the personnel units going in and out. Get done what we want to get done. Go over the ‘must’ for the day. With all that being said, I’m looking forward to it, it’s going to be a challenge. I need it, I’ll tell you that much. There’s no question, the last time I called a game was in December. I need it and I’m looking forward to it. I know I’ll be better than last week, this week. Hopefully I’ll be better the following week than I was this week. It has to be constant improvement. No different than what we tell the players, get better every day, that’s what I’m trying to do.