Indianapolis – Matt Patricia used to be an offensive lineman. But he made a name for himself coaching defense in the NFL.
And now that he’s a head coach, one of his most important hires shortly after accepting the Lions’ top job was to bring in veteran offensive line coach Jeff Davidson. The two worked briefly together in New England when Patricia joined the Patriots’ staff in 2004.
But at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, Patricia spoke highly of Davidson, a 24-year NFL coaching veteran who most recently served as the Denver Broncos’ offensive line coach.
“He knows me, and he knows what I want,” Patricia said. “I have a great relationship with him. Jeff and I worked together a long time ago. I think he’s a phenomenal coach. He’s very smart, Jeff is very analytical about the game. Really an outstanding coach in relating to the players.”
That’s a necessity after the past few seasons in Detroit, when the Lions rushing attack ranked as arguably the NFL’s worst with Ron Prince coaching the line while also holding a dual title as assistant head coach.
The expectation is that Davidson, a former All-Big Ten lineman at Ohio State in the late 1980s, will do more than just revamp the Lions’ blocking scheme. He’ll also develop a better rapport with his offensive line group.
“He understands when he needs to be hard on ’em, and he understands when he needs to love ’em up,” Patricia said. “And he can just relate on a whole different level than I can, because I never played at this level, and Jeff has.”
Marrone on Patricia
Patricia’s backstory is well-known, earning a degree in aeronautical engineering while playing college football at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. But around the NFL, he’s respected for more than his past as a would-be rocket scientist.
“We all go out there and say how smart he is, from his background academically and the engineering and all that,” Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said. “He’s the same way as a football coach. Very, very bright. Very smart. Gets a lot out of his players.”
Marrone saw that firsthand in the AFC championship game, when Patricia’s patchwork defense shut down the Jaguars in the second half to spark the Patriots’ fourth-quarter comeback win. He also saw it last August when the two teams held joint practices prior to their preseason opener.
“I was on the field with Matt, and from a standpoint of orchestrating a defense and getting what he wants out of the players and really pushing them and challenging them, I really thought he did an outstanding job,” Marrone said. “I have all the respect in the world for him.”
‘Kind of weird’
Every year, the combine produces stories about some of the bizarre questions that prospects get asked in interviews with teams. And this year is no different.
Marcus Davenport, a likely first-round pick at defensive end out of Texas-San Antonio, was asked about the strangest question he’d gotten so far. He didn’t say which team it was, but one asked him, “If you were a fruit, what fruit would you be?”
“I said an apple,” Davenport said.
And why is that?
“Hey, an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” he said. “I have to be healthy.”
But it’s not just the questions, apparently. The Seattle Seahawks also engaged prospects in impromptu staring contests.
“They wanted me to stare at a thing without blinking, see how long I could go without blinking,” Florida defensive end Taven Bryan said. “I guess it was a staring contest – it was kind of weird. … Honestly, I think I failed it.”
Added Texas punter Michael Dickson: "I had a couple of attempts. I tried a few techniques, looking away from the light, trying to block any sort of wind coming into the eyes. That was a weird process."
As for what the Seahawks see in former Michigan receiver Amara Darboh, despite limited production as a rookie third-round pick last season, Pete Carroll sounded encouraged. Darboh played in all 16 games, but only caught eight passes.
“He did a lot of really good things,” Carroll said. “There’s no question that he was competitive, physical, he’s fast enough, tough enough, he can catch the ball well enough, all that stuff. We got a great look at him on special teams, which really showed who he really is – his heart and his nature. He’s a tough guy, really disciplined. So I expect that he can take a big jump forward. … He’s been prepared well. You could tell coming out of college.”
That’s a point Seahawks GM John Schneider reiterated when asked about team’s struggling to find NFL-ready receivers in this year’s draft class, what with so many college teams running spread offenses.
“Yeah, it's hard,” Schneider said. “They don't know how to run routes. That's why we went with Amara last year. He'd played at Michigan. He knew how to run routes.”