Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Pat Graham
September 9, 2021
Q: Did you see if (Wide Receivers Coach) Tyke (Tolbert) has a past playbook hanging around or anything?
A: Wouldn't be bad to look at that, but just really watching the tape and just getting a feel for the people. As the week starts to progress right now, (it was) a lot of scheme yesterday. Still got scheme elements of it, but now my focus and the players start focusing more on the people. We’ve got to know who's out there on the field, who's in the slot, who's the back, where they're lined up. You'll see just the tone of the players, the coaches, it just starts to get a little bit more focused in on it because it's narrowing down. It's almost giddy up time.
Q: What makes (Broncos Offensive Coordinator Pat) Shurmur’s offense so effective?
A: I think one, they run the ball and he's committed to running the ball. So, in this league – and you can go back to Pop Warner – if you don't stop the run, the offensive coordinator has you right where he wants you because we're going to be scrambling to stop the run, so that's what's important. We’ve got to stop the run. Not only do they got good backs, they’ve got a good offensive line, they’ve got a good scheme, whether they mix in the zone schemes, the gap schemes. Coach (Shurmur) does a great job of mixing it up and staying committed to it. That’s the biggest thing, so it's a big emphasis for us. We’ve got to match their intensity in the run game. You’ve got an offensive line that plays well together. I know they’ve got a new piece at the right tackle spot, but they play well together, so it's a challenge. But that's where it starts and then from there, the stuff off the run game – you’ve got the play actions, the boots, the nakeds, however you want to play off of that. And then, as usual, it comes down to the people. You've got a skill group like they have, the backs, the tight end, the quarterback. I think (Broncos Quarterback) Teddy's (Bridgewater) brought a calming sense to the offense. You could see that in just the efficiency in which he operated during the preseason and just over his career, so it's a challenge. The coordinator is part of it and he's a good coach and he's done a good job for a long time in this league, but they’ve got some good players that we’ve got to get focused in on.
Q: Jumping off that, (Head Coach) Joe (Judge) mentioned yesterday he thought this could be one of, if not the best wide receiver groups in the NFL. What kind of challenges do those guys present?
A: They’ve got people that can run. You ask any coordinator, any head coach, any DB coach, the first thing (is) who are the people that can run by you? They have several of those guys. They could run by you. If it's a foot race, they could run by you. Then, if the ball is thrown deep – again, I'm starting with all the deep passes. There are other passes in football, but I'm starting with all the deep passes because that's when they can score right away. They’ve got two guys that could just jump up and go get the ball with anybody, so right there you're like, okay, a few things to defend right there. Then, do they have anything on the interior? Yes, they’ve got things in the interior. Two of the fast guys play in the interior, so now it’s vertical seams on the inside. That's tough right there, because who are they matched up on? Then, you’ve got to talk about the tight end. There's another guy who could run. There are multiple guys that can run and then the guy who's supposed to be the blocker, 82, he's the one that's catching all the passes in the preseason. So, yeah, it's tough. That's why I haven't shaved (laughs).
Q: You mentioned the guys running the vertical seams from the inside. I know the star position on your defense – I mean, every position is important, but when a team can do that on the interior, what does that do? I don't want to say to ‘put you on your heels,’ but schematically how do you have to defend against that?
A: No, it's a great weapon to have for them because the more stress you could put on, let's say not just the star, but let’s say the hook area players, right? That's why the RPO (run-pass option) stuff is tough is you're putting stress on the hook player – I’ve got to run fit, and here comes a pass behind me. That's mostly the horizontal stretch or the horizontal dilemma you have right there. Now you add the vertical elements with it and now it becomes tough because whether that guy is a low responsibility player or not, he's probably got something to do with rerouting that, whether it's the star, the back or whoever it is. But he has a run fit, so the run pulls him in. Now, there's no reroute, now this guy's vertical in the seam and he's fast and he's behind everybody, and nobody touched him. It's hard. Offenses, they stress us out. You wonder why we're grumpy as defensive coaches, it’s because they’re stressing us out. I always say they're always trying to screw with us, which, that’s a good thing.
Q: (Safety) Xavier McKinney. What do you want to see from him above all else in this game?
A: Keep it simple just in terms of team first, good football position and just valuing the process as he builds towards his game. It's all the stuff we talk about. In terms of his play, defend the deep part of the field – he’s a defensive back – make sure we tackle, and I want him to have fun out there, have fun with his teammates. That's the main stuff right there. I'm not going to get into anything specific because I don't know what he's going to have to do. He might have to cover man-to-man, he might have to play the deep part of the field, he might have to tackle somebody on a long gain. I just want him to go out there and do his job to the best of his ability. We're looking forward to seeing him play.
Q: He seems to have a ball hawk element to him. Do you want him to take chances or as a young guy you just want him not to get beat deep?
A: I want him to play football how he's been taught to play and how he's played his whole career in terms of – I mean, is he a ball hawk? The past has suggested that and then his last game he played he got his hand on the ball to the end of the game. But I want all the guys – if the ball is near you, I want you to make a play on the ball. So, I just want Zay to do his job, do his job to the best of his ability, which I know he's working towards doing, and just trust his teammates and put the team first. Just all the stuff we talk about.
Q: You talked a lot about stopping the run.
A: I’m a D-line coach now, you’ve got to understand that (laughs).
Q: What is your confidence level now that there's no (Vikings Defensive Lineman) Dalvin Tomlinson and so that is a hole that you guys had to fill in your defensive line – how confident are you that you have filled that hole and you can still stop the run?
A: Again, we're so behind on the run game just in general in terms of the football – off-season, training camp, because in the off-season we don't really do it. So, again, you try to get engaged during practice, during training camp, try to get engaged during the preseason. I know this, where we’re going to be on Sunday, hopefully, a few Sundays from now and 10 Sundays from now we're going to be a lot better. I have confidence in the players that are here because they understand how we want to play the run. It's not going to be on one person, if that makes sense there. The goal and when we talk to those guys about defending the run, we’ve got to set an edge and build a wall, and then the next thing is listen, nobody could go one-for-one. We're not looking for that. It's a passing league, so if you overcommit to the run game you could get into issues right there. It’s a passing league, so we’ve got to have men that play out on that field that can not go one-for-one, meaning that, okay, I'm getting blocked by this guy, I’ve got to be able to play A-gap, B-gap, C-gap, D-gap, B-gap, A-gap. So, that's what we're looking for if that makes sense. And I have faith in the guys because they've been working hard. (Defensive Line Coach Sean) Spence (Spencer), (Linebackers Coach) Kevin (Sherrer), these guys do a good job. You guys are here, how often (are) you not able to see the D-Line, the inside backers and the outside backers because they're over there in the blocking structure. We work it. Now, is it going to be perfect? No. Is it going to be perfect? No. I don't know how Sunday is going to go, but if we work it and we’ve just got to make sure that we keep striving to get better.
Q: Were you in Green Bay when Teddy was with the Vikings?
A: No, it was (Vikings Quarterback) Kirk Cousins.
Q: Did you ever coach against him before his injury?
A: No, he got hurt and then it was a (Former Vikings Quarterback) (Matt) Cassel in ’14. We went up there in Week 3 or Week 2. They scored on the opening drive. (Former Vikings Offensive Coordinator) (Norv) Turner, I remember that one. They went down, we went over what not to do or what they were going to do, and they did everything they were going to do, and it was 7-0 real quick. That was not fun – little bit in the ear in the headset on that one – but he got hurt and then Cassel was the starter. But I remember that vividly, yes.
Q: What do you see from Teddy now?
A: Like I said before, again, I think there's a calming presence about him out there on the field. I've never met him before. He gets rid of the ball quickly, he makes quick decisions. I think you saw that from Carolina, his time in New Orleans, just going back watching tape just trying to get a feel for him because I haven't gone against him in the past that I can remember. But, a calming presence, making quick decisions and, again, to me, when you get these veteran quarterbacks, when they can get you in the right run play, that's just as beneficial as when they're going over on TV, ‘Oh, he checked to this pass and all that.’ I mean, whatever. When they get you in the right run play and it hits for 20 yards, that's a big deal to me when those quarterbacks can do that. So, you see that, him getting them in and out of checks. That’s the benefit of having a veteran quarterback that’s smart and knows what's going on, and then obviously he can throw the ball. I mean, every time he's been in the game in the preseason it’s been a score for the most part, so good player.
Q: You’ve had this summer to kind of digest what your defense is going to look like, right? What do you expect to be better, an improvement? Where do you think the biggest gains are from this defense when you look at it compared to last year?
A: See, the hard thing is that I don't really do the comparison thing. Again, I'm not trying to be cliché or just coach speak. Every day is new, every year is new. I mean, it's a complete reset. Now, in terms of what am I looking for? There's probably more scheme that we're able to get to at this point than we were last year. That's a fair answer just to answer your question right there. There's probably more scheme there, but what am I looking for the first game of the season? I'm looking for us not to beat ourselves, no penalties, cut down on the mental errors, make sure we're tackling. You know how it is. You guys have been around football long enough – the first week of the season – I mean, how many missed tackles, how many missed assignments, people wide open, all types of stuff. I'm sure Joe talked about (it). We’ve got to cut down on that, so that's what I'm looking forward to, not allowing these guys to run free, make sure we know where we're supposed to be, make sure I'm not screwing up any situations with calls. It's the first game, everybody's first game of the year, I know we had some warmups with the preseason, but that's really what we're looking for. But to answer your question, there's probably more scheme that we're able to get to at this point because the guys are further along. Does that make sense?