Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham
August 5, 2021
Q: What were you so angry about last night?
A: I’m always mad, man. I’m from the tri-state area. That’s just my natural personality, I guess. I don’t know. I’m mad now, you know, I’m trying to disguise it. Something to do with football probably. Something to do with football. This is my family out here, so that’s probably part of it, too.
Q: There were a lot of positives outside the building talking about what the defense was able to do last year from the top on down. How do you reset everything for your guys going into year two with so many guys coming back?
A: This league, every year is new. I mean, again, it’s cliché, but it’s true. As soon as the season’s over, I’ve reset and then it’s part of our job to make sure the players know, ‘hey, nothing matters from last year, from the previous year.’ So you just try to convey that message to them and thankfully, we have a good group of guys who understand that. Based on what we’ve been through so far on the field, we’ve got a ways to go to improve. I’ve got a ways to go to improve, so I think they understand. Our offense is doing a pretty good job out there, so we’ve got ways to improve, and we’ll keep working, so nobody really thinks about last year.
Q: What do you want the identity of this defense to be?
A: The same thing that (Head Coach) Joe (Judge) talks about, toughness. We really want it to be reflective of the communities, the tri-state, New York, however you want to look at it. But like the people here, they’re tough, they work hard. I want them to look at us on film, like whether it’s over at the stadium or out here at practice, we see our toughness come out. We see us working hard and not loafing around the field – running around the field, that’s what I want it to be. Specifically, with the football part of it, playing in good football position, team-first, playing with our hands in front of our eyes, good knee-bend and all that stuff. Again, same stuff that most high school coaches are teaching, it’s still the game of football between those white lines and that’s what you want it to look like.
Q: We’ve seen (Linebacker) Azeez Ojulari get quite a few reps with the first team because of injury, what has been your impressions of him?
A: Azeez is a diligent worker, smart and he’s taking it all in right now. Obviously, it’s a new league for him. It’s a new – not a new position, but just different for him a little. But he’s been working really hard listening to the vets and then the thing that shows up when he gets out there on the football field with his pads on, he knows how to play football, which is a positive. He’s physical. He’s hard to move. He plays with his hands and I’m excited to keep working with him.
Q: In terms of last season, how critical was it to you to get more help for (Defensive Lineman) Leonard Williams in the pass rush and do you think you now have enough players to help him out?
A: I mean, again, I’m not going to disrespect the guys from last year and the guys that are here. We did what we did last year from the pass rush and Leo was a big part of that and I think that we’re growing in the system. We’re growing listening to my coaching and how we coach the pass rush. I think Spence (Defensive Line Coach Sean Spencer) and (Linebackers Coach) Kevin (Sherrer) work well together in terms of the development of our pass rushers along with Blev (Assistant Linebackers/Special Teams Assistant Anthony Blevins) and (Defensive Quality Control Coach) Ryan Anderson, our QC. I think we’re just growing, and we’ve got some more players, guys to work with and they have different skillsets. I’m looking forward to that and we’ll see how it plays out. Pass rush, you know right now, to be honest with you to answer the first part of your question, I’m more concerned about the run game. So, if you were wondering about that, I might be mad about that, you never know. I’m more worried about the run game. The pass rush will come. I know it’s a passing league, but I’m not there right now.
Q: Have there been times this year out in camp so far where you instructed the guys to do something and they knew it already or they got it real quick as opposed to last year where you were teaching and they were looking at you like, ‘we don’t get this?’
A: I would say the situational stuff because we spent a lot of time – Joe hits it with the group and then we hit separately as a unit and the coaches hit it. But the awareness of the situational football, I mean you guys aren’t privy to it, but the conversations happen on the sideline now, they’re more football based as opposed to worrying about whatever it might have been before because hey it’s three and 10 here, second and seven. We’re able to have those conversations. Again, you have players that were more advanced before. You had (Linebacker) Blake (Martinez), you had (Defensive Back) Logan (Ryan), those guys can have those conversations easily. Now you’re dealing with a larger group able to do so.
Q: You spoke about you’re concerned about the run defense. I’m just kind of wondering, coaches usually like to say, ‘well this guy leaves, we bring in another guy, we pick up where they left,’ but we know that they’re not robots and they can’t all have the same skillset. With that said, losing (Former Defensive Tackle) Dalvin Tomlinson, you brought in some new guys, how do you kind of see that run defense being different than it was last year?
A: Well, it’s in the formative stage right now because just by the rules we haven’t had pads on. It’s different in college where you got spring practice, you have your pads on and you’re able to work that. We haven’t had pads on. We’ve just been working really on bags and sleds and stuff that doesn’t move, so you’re always concerned about the run game the first few weeks of training camp because it’s the first time they’re playing football. As a linebacker, you’re kind of playing football in seven-on-seven drills and stuff in the spring. As a defensive lineman or the guys involved in the run game, you’re really not playing football until you get to this part of the year. So again, I probably won’t worry about people that aren’t here. Again, last year was last year, but I’m looking forward to seeing how it shapes up this year. I mean, we’ve got good players who are working hard and they’re getting a feel for it and I’m getting a feel for what we want to call. I’m looking forward to it.
Q: You have some pretty proven players in that secondary and a pretty high pick in (Safety) Xavier (McKinney) kind of mixed in there now. How good can that unit be?
A: As good as they want. As long as they don’t screw it up, so that’s how I see it. My job is to put them in the right position to make plays. We’ve got guys who have been playmakers in the past. I’ll tell you this, they’re working hard, so they’re doing that part of it. They’re communicating. (Defensive Backs Coach) Jerome (Henderson), (Senior Defensive Assistant) Jeremy (Pruitt), (Assistant Defensive Backs Coach) Mike (Treier), those guys do a great job of coaching those guys and building their awareness whether it’s situationally or personnel-driven. With that information, I think the sky’s the limit, but we’re going to take it day-by-day and just keep putting in that work.
Q: This is such a proven group like you said, do you give them more latitude? Do you say, ‘hey, you freestyle it if you know it?’
A: I’m big on this again, I’m a coach, what happens between those white lines is really their defense, if that makes sense. Right now, I’m holding the keys to a certain extent and I’m guiding a ship, but at some point, after you get the message across and you understand exactly what you’re looking for and are able to convey that to them the right way, I give them the keys. Again, we don’t have any operating outside the defense, but between those white lines, what they see is what they see. They get paid a lot of money to make those split-second decisions, decipher those plays and all those scenarios that come up. So to answer your question, yes, but I don’t know if it’s a guess.
Q: To that point, how important is intelligence when evaluating and adjusting, especially in you scheme? Is this the smartest group of DBs you’ve been around?
A: Football intelligence, football IQ or football savviness, that’s always important. I could care less if they know exactly what E = MC2 means or whatever. I don’t know. I might not know. But I like to be able to talk to them about football. I do like to be able to talk to them about football. I like for them to be able to learn from their past mistakes and from experiences, so that equates to intelligence and that’s what we’re looking for. Can they get out there on the field? Can they see something? If they’re excited for it, fine. Can they learn from their mistakes and be able to move on from it? That’s really what you’re looking for. In terms of – I’m not going to get into other groups, I’ve been around a bunch of good football players before, but I’m very excited about this group, man. The level of whether it’s communication, the rapport they have with one another and their ability to fix stuff on the field. I’m looking forward to seeing how it keeps growing.
Q: What made Logan’s transition to safety so seamless?
A: Being a good football player makes it a little bit easier. Just the system, look, it allows you to be versatile. So whether he was officially a safety or not, he’s done both jobs and based on what we can do, we’ve mixed it up a lot and put guys in different spots. So defensive backs and corners play safety. A safety can play corner. Our safeties play linebacker. I mean with Logan, it’s not that different. He’s smart and he has football IQ and he works hard. He works really hard.
Q: Do you think that in his second full season as a safety there is a level of improvement that could be there?
A: There’s always a level of improvement. He’ll tell you that. He’s working every day to get better. He wants us to be on him. Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about that. We’ll do that. He wants to improve. He wants to be the best out there and I love that about him. I love that he wants to be the best and they are all working hard to do that and he’s bringing guys along with him, too.
Q: With so many guys coming back, do you have a bigger playbook, or can you do more things?
A: Well, if you leave it me, I might go a little crazy. I’m sitting there on vacation on the Vineyard this summer, yeah, I start thinking about stuff. But then you got to think about this, you got to be mindful, what are your core principles of what we want to do, what we want to be? You got to understand, we don’t have a lot of time and the team hasn’t really formed yet. So you have to be mindful of that and you have to be mindful of look, the playbook for pros, we grow as a unit. The thing for me is establishing a foundation and establishing the foundation of the base knowledge of what we want to do, our core principles and from there based on the opponent, grow. You guys ask me about old players, they know I hate playbooks. I hate playbooks. I can’t use the language I use in a playbook. I’m not a big fan of playbooks because it’s all based on what they take from us.