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Giants’ DT Justin Ellis feels ‘different,’ hopes for big year

‘Jelly’ is taking to the teachings of defensive line coach Andre Patterson

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Justin Ellis
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

New York Giants defensive line coach Andre Patterson calls veteran defensive tackle Justin Ellis ‘Jelly.’ Can ‘Jelly’ add some flavor to the Giants’ defense in 2022?

Entering his ninth season in the league, Ellis told Big Blue View in an exclusive interview on Thursday that he believes “there’s most definitely more,” that he can add to his game.

“I’m excited. I feel like if I do the right things and I take the coaching it’ll be a big year for me,” he said.

Ellis will be in his fourth season playing for a defense coordinated by Wink Martindale.

“All coordinators have their things that they do. I really like you just never know how we’re going to attack you (as an offense),” Ellis said. “I just like the aggressiveness of the defense. I like how we dictate to the offense what we want to do.”

Let’s discuss Ellis as we continue our player-by-player profiles of the Giants’ 90-man roster.

By the numbers

Height: 6-foot-2
Weight: 334
Age: 31
Position: Defensive tackle
Experience: 8
Contract: One year, $1.2725 million | Guaranteed at sign: $337,500 | 2022 cap hit: $1.0475 million

Career to date

Ever since being drafted by the Oakland Raiders in Round 4 of the 2014 NFL Draft, Ellis has been a run-stuffing, rotational defensive tackle. He played 622 snaps as a rookie (56 percent), but has never played more than 45 percent of a team’s defensive snaps in any season since.

Ellis spent five seasons with the Raiders and the last three with the Baltimore Ravens. He has been the classic run defensive interior defensive lineman. In eight seasons totaling 100 regular-season games, Ellis has only a half-sack and just four quarterback hits.

Ellis is coming off the two poorest seasons of his career in terms of run defense, at least as judged by Pro Football Focus. His 51.4 run defense grade in 2020 and 49.4 run defense grade in 20212 are the lowest of his career.

When the Giants signed Ellis, the immediate thought was that he would generally be a rotational 3-4 nose tackle. Ellis has done that a significant amount in his career, but has also spent a lot of time as a 1- or 3-tech in even fronts.

2022 outlook

The Giants have a different coaching staff and different scheme, but Ellis was likely signed to play a rotational role similar to the one Danny Shelton had for the Giants a season ago.

Defensive line coach Andre Patterson believes that “you never get to the point where you say this is where I’m tapped out, unless you have told yourself this is where I tapped out. You can still reach for more.”

Even after eight seasons of Ellis clearly showing a particular skillset, Patterson believes he can help the 31-year-old do just that.

“Jelly’s been in this league for a long time. He’s been a good player in this league, and now I’ve just totally revamped his game,” Patterson said. “He looks like a totally different guy right now.”

During the second OTA practice available to media, on May 26, the 334-pound Ellis blew up a wide screen to tight end Ricky Seals-Jones in the backfield, showing surprising range and agility.

“I feel different. I feel like I’m recognizing how to transition from being a run player — a lot of time when you get in a game and you’re a run guy you’ve gotta play the run first,” Ellis said, admitting that “for sure” Patterson is different than other coaches he has had.

“I just like how he breaks everything down. He takes everyone, he sees your skillset, he sees what you don’t do well, there’s things we need to fix and he just breaks you down from the bottom, he starts you from ground zero. Everyone. From Leo (Williams), Dex (Lawrence), everyone. He’s not a cookie-cutter coach. He basically tries to get you to play to your ability, to your strengths,” Ellis said.

“Whatever you do well, if you step a certain way well and it’s different from another guy he’s OK with that as long as we handle our job during the play. I like that about him.”

Ellis believes, even at this stage of his career, that Patterson’s teachings can make him a better player.

“If you play d-line you understand, if you play nose you understand that you have to play the run first. Sometimes it might not be the best stance or the right angle or whatever. The thing he’s (Patterson) teaching us is to be able to convert, play run first, yes, but as soon as you see pass, convert. I think that’s going to make me a better, more effective pass rusher.”

Patterson said he told players some of his teachings would make them uncomfortable. Ellis said learning to embrace new ideas is part of what has kept him in the league.

“I learned early to be coachable, that’s the key thing to being in the league for a long time. You never know what’s going to happen year to year. You get a new coach you adjust to what he’s telling you,” Ellis said. “Coach ‘Dre is telling me a lot of good things that if I would have learned early on in my career, you never know. I’m excited about that part, too.

“It is awkward. I still do, I revert back to old habits sometimes. To me that’s kinda frustrating a little bit but over time I think I’ll get what he’s saying.”

No one should expect Ellis to suddenly morph into Vita Vea or be the second coming of former New England Patriots star Vince Wilfork. If he can be an effective player in the middle, and occasionally do more than simply take up space or eat up blocks against the pass, he will be a good addition to the Giants’ defense.