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‘The Godfather’ comes to New York: What does DL coach Andre Patterson bring to the Giants?

Patterson offers four decades of experience, and a desire to “make everyone you touch better”

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New York Giants fans will hate part of this story about new defensive line coach Andre Patterson, because it will re-open festering wounds about past organizational mistakes. Those same fans will likely love part of this story for what it could mean about the future of the Giants’ defensive line.

Patterson, 61, has been coaching since 1982. He was most recently with the Minnesota Vikings from 2014 until being hired by the Giants. He was defensive line coach, and at times held both the co-defensive coordinator and assistant coach titles in Minnesota.

Robert Rodriguez was Patterson’s assistant defensive line coach for five years in Minnesota, and was linebackers coach with Patterson at UTEP for three seasons prior to that.

“We all have egos, but egos in this business can get out of hand,” Rodriguez told Big Blue View.

“Dre’s confident in his coaching ability, as he should be. I think more people should know if he’s not the best he’s one of the best, and to me he’s the best. I’m not insulting anybody. I’m saying there’s really good coaches in the league and he’s the best of them. He’s the best I’ve ever been around and he doesn’t act that way. He acts like a servant. He goes in there trying to make others better.”

Now, let’s talk about Danielle Hunter.

Hunter, a 2015 third-round pick by the Vikings, is likely the Patterson success story you are most familiar with. He has 60.5 career quarterback sacks and in 2019 became the youngest player in NFL history to reach the 50-sack mark.

Hunter was chosen in Round 3, 88th overall, by the Vikings in 2015.

Now, let’s allow Rodriguez to tell us how the story intertwines with Giants history. It begins with the Vikings meeting to discuss draft prospects.

“Dre [Patterson] and Rick [GM Rick Spielman] were really the only two in the room that loved Danielle. It was a tie in the room between two guys. I thought the other guy was better than Danielle. He [Patterson] said why. I told him he sheds blocks better, takes better angles, he’s a better pass rusher, seems like he’s bigger. This guy is athletic when he runs around blocks. I don’t really see him do anything physical,” Rodriguez said.

“Dre said I see what you see, but I need you to learn two things right now. First of all, Danielle bends better, he’s longer. Yes he’s more raw but in these situations, Rob, you can look at the player or you can look at what he can be. Danielle is smart and he’s more athletic and he’s under-coached in my opinion. So now, you’ve gotta trust yourself as a coach to develop that.”

Patterson, Rodriguez said, was imploring him to look beyond the film.

“The kid’s a good person and he’s intelligent. That means he can learn. Now you’ve gotta trust yourself as a coach, and I trust myself as a coach, and I think we can get him to where we want to get to,” Rodriguez said.

“If we do it right and he’s who I think he is we hit the home run. This other guy is who he is.”

The “other guy” in that conversation? You probably guessed it by now. That was Owa Odighizuwa, the defensive end who would be taken 74th, 14 picks earlier, by the Giants. Odighizuwa had one sack in 23 games and was out of the league after two seasons.

“Dre was the biggest advocate to take Danielle. As it comes through obviously Danielle turns out to be the home run. Everything Dre said was true because Danielle was everything Dre said he was,” Rodriguez said.

“Dre saw it. He could see it and he was fighting to take Danielle From Day 1. I didn’t see it. Another lesson as a coach was to trust yourself and your ability to coach if you find a good person. Find someone with high character and high talent.”

Patterson once told The Athletic the story of how, watching the uninspiring film of Hunter accumulating just 4.5 sacks in 52 games at LSU, he graded him as a Round 5 or Round 6 prospect. By the time he had really gotten to know him, though, he had Hunter graded as a Round 2 prospect.

“I was watching on tape going, ‘What the hell is he doing?’” Patterson said. “But I could see the athleticism. And it showed in the run game. You saw him make unbelievable plays in the run game.”

Then Patterson and Hunter met in Indianapolis. Patterson was so impressed by his interview that he bumped Hunter up to a third-round grade.

A few weeks later, Patterson was at Arizona State’s pro day. Those are rather long affairs with a lot of downtime before teams finally get to work out prospects one-on-one. As Patterson waited, he felt a tap on his shoulder. It was Hunter. He was in the area training before the draft and figured he’d stop by because he had heard Patterson would be there.

“He drove all the way to see me,” Patterson said. “And, well, you stand around a long time at pro days just waiting. So I stood there and talked to him for probably an hour and a half. When I left there, I changed my grade again and gave him a second-round grade. I came back and said, ‘I have to have this guy.’ Everybody else was just going off the film so it was a major argument in the room. They didn’t know what I knew. Fortunately, he proved me right.”

Now, let’s talk about Linval Joseph.

New York Giants v Carolina Panthers
Linval Joseph with the Giants in 2012.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Giants’ fans still get annoyed when they think about Joseph. A 2010 second-round pick by the Giants, Joseph was a good but not dominant player during four seasons with the Giants. The Giants, with a history of replacing defensive tackles rather than spending big money on them, let Joseph walk. He signed a five-year, $31.5 million contract with the Vikings.

Joseph enjoyed a six-year run in Minnesota and played the best football of his career during that time, making two Pro Bowls. With Patterson and Rodriguez as his coaches.

The Athletic tabbed Joseph as Minnesota’s best free agent signing of the decade.

Joseph arrived in Minnesota after four years with the New York Giants and quickly transformed the interior of the team’s defensive line. He was a stout presence up the middle. Joseph took on multiple blockers, helped free up the team’s pass rushers, and he was excellent against the run. He arrived on a very reasonable five-year contract with only $12.5 million guaranteed and played in 88 games with the Vikings while reaching two Pro Bowls.

Rodriguez said it was really all about what Joseph was being asked to do.

“The style of defensive line play that they [the Giants] were playing back then was more about running off the football and getting distance off their first step,” Rodriguez said. “Linval Joseph is a great athlete, and he’s really a great athlete for his size, but his No. 1 quality is his power. I think that style, what they were asking him to do, was more predicated for guys who are more athletic than they are powerful.”

Basically, the Vikings unlocked the 6-foot-4, 329-pound Joseph’s strength as a weapon.

“The way we taught our nose tackles was more about leading with their hands and letting their feet follow,” Rodriguez said.

“Big guy like Linval in New York when he gets off the ball he’s just taught to penetrate and cover ground … Andre and the technique that we taught always allows for these athletes to be balanced and powerful in all positions. They’re more predicated on playing through edges of the man than they are running through space. They’re better with their eyes and their hands, they understand angles better. Andre teaches angles about as well as anybody I’ve ever been around.”

“Kinda like the Godfather”

Patterson had reportedly hoped to stay in Minnesota, where he was beloved as more than simply a defensive line coach. The Vikings, though, have a new GM in Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and a new head coach in Kevin O’Connell.

“Dre is my mentor in this profession and that’s what Dre is really great at. He’s an unbelievable motivator, but the best thing that he does, he’s a great teacher and a great person,” Rodriguez said.

“They’re [the Vikings] going to miss not only a lot of the things that he did with the players Xs and Os wise, but the way he impacted people in the building. There’s a lot of people on all three levels of that building that are going to miss him.”

Patterson cares about more than teaching Xs and Os. Check out the video below of Patterson reacting after a shooting in the Twin Cities last fall.

“There’s no doubt about that, and that’s kind of a principal pillar of what he teaches is it doesn’t matter what level we’re at – college, pro, high school – if you show them [players] that you genuinely care for them and that’s your motivation then they’re going to take the information,” Rodriguez said.

“It helps you two-fold to care about them. Motivates you to help them when they’re down and it makes you a better teacher at the end of the day. You stay dedicated to helping them get better.”

With four decades in football, Rodriguez said people from all facets of the Viking organization used to go to Patterson for counsel.

“It was kinda cool to watch him, he was kinda like the Godfather,” Rodriguez said. “I’d be in his office as his assistant, and it was kind of amazing the different types of people that would walk in that door.”

“Make everyone you touch better.”

Rodriguez tells a great story about a training camp incident in Minnesota that angered Patterson.

“We were talking about another position and another position coach said something along the lines like ‘I’m not worried about him, he’s not going to make the team.’ I look over and Dre is red in the face. He’s hot. He calls me into his office and he says I better never hear you say something like that,” Rodriguez said.

“I looked at him like ‘I didn’t say it. It wasn’t me.’ He was pounding the desk. He was like I’m teaching you something right now, listen to me. Your job is coach. Your job is to teach and motivate and do everything you can to make that player better. I don’t care if he was drafted in the first round or he’s a free agent, you give him all you’ve got. It’s your job to make them better. If they don’t succeed, then you don’t succeed. You’ve gotta take that personal and you’ve gotta give them all you’ve got. I don’t care who they are. Your job is not to cut them. Your job is not to decide who makes the team. Your job is to make everyone you touch better. That’s your job.”

After a year at Montana as a grad assistant, Patterson coached at the high school level from 1983-87. Between jobs two decades later, he was selfless enough to return to the high school level for his son’s school, Regis Jesuit High School, in 2007 as an offensive line coach.

“Dre’s just a good man and he believes in helping others,” Rodriguez said.

“That’s just another example of that. He wasn’t going to sit on his butt for a whole year and just look at the TV and feel sorry for himself. He was going to go touch lives, because that’s what he does. Everywhere he goes there’s people that look back and say he changed my life. I can say that from experience because I’ve seen it a bunch of times, and I am one of those people.”

From algebra to calculus

Rodriguez said that Patterson is “not a cookie-cutter coach,” and Giants defensive linemen are about to be asked to learn things they probably have not been taught before.

“Their IQ is about to go through the roof. Whatever they’ve been learning has probably been really good, but I’ll tell you they’ve been learning algebra, they’re about to learn calculus with Andre,” Rodriguez said.

“Andre’s technique, whoever you are it makes you better. If you’re average it helps you be good, if you’re good it helps you be great, if you’re great it helps you be the best. He’s going to empower them with knowledge and he’s going to make sure that they’re always in advantageous positions with their hands and their feet, and then he’s going to help them learn how to use their hands. Their hand work is going to go through the roof.”

Rodriguez is particularly interested to see how Dexter Lawrence improves under Patterson’s tutelage.

“If I was near him [Lawrence] I would advise him, dude, shut out everything you know, just listen, commit and give it a shot. It’s going to be hard at first but you’re going to be playing better than you’ve ever played in your life, and it’ll be empowering for you because you’re going to know why,” Rodriguez said.

“If those guys are committed to it those guys are really going to like what they see in the mirror when they’re done.”

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