Patrick Graham has yet to call a play for the Giants as defensive coordinator.
No one knows what his schemes will look like, including the Giants players, who have yet to receive their playbooks. No one knows if he will be any good at his job, either, with his only experience in the role coming last season with a Dolphins defense that ranked 30th in the NFL.
Graham hasn’t even spoken publicly since he took over his new job way back in January.
But it’s clear that this offseason, he’s been one of the most impactful members of the Giants’ coaching staff both in terms of whom he thought the team should acquire and reeling them in once they made that list.
Three of their bigger free-agent signings have been defensive players who likely will be starters (James Bradberry, Blake Martinez and Kyler Fackrell), and two of them played directly under Graham when he was linebackers coach with the Packers.
“My agent laid my options on the table and I was like, ‘Honestly, let’s get this thing done with the Giants,’ ” Martinez said of his brief free agency before agreeing to a three-year, $30 million contract. “’That’s where I want to be. That’s where I think my best opportunity is to be successful and be successful as a team.’”
Graham’s presence, he said, was one of the main factors in that decision.
“We had that year together and we became super-close,” Martinez said of the 2018 season. “For me, what made me so excited to work with him this year and the following years is how smart he is. I think he is probably the smartest coach I’ve ever been around. The preparation he puts in every week, his intensity, just how much he cares about the game of football — it just allowed me to go in every Sunday or Monday or Thursday game fully prepared.”
For a player as cerebral as Martinez, that was important.
“I never felt like I didn’t know what play was going to happen next,” he said of his time with Graham. “He put that much into it and that’s how easy it was to understand what he was communicating to us. Throughout the week, he would basically emphasize little things, whether it was this team runs routes at 10 to 12 yards or this team runs at 14 yards. This team runs a lot of short routes, this team does a lot of crossing routes. This team runs outside zone, inside zone, toss, stretch, whatever it ends up being. You knew that you would emphasize that throughout the week.
"We would do little drills, whether it was in individual or on the side, that would allow you to get those game-like reps and find advantages throughout the week that you could use on that given game. It made it that much easier to make plays and be successful in that given week.”
It's not just the X’s-and-O’s of Graham’s coaching that has helped draw his former players, but his personality too.
Said Fackrell, also a linebacker on that 2018 Packers team who played for Graham: “The thing that I like most about him is just his passion and love for football. He’ll get up on the table and scream and yell if he needs to, but it all comes from a great place. It comes from him being grateful for the life he’s living and what he gets to do to provide for his family. That’s something that I always loved coming into work and working with Coach Graham. That was a big thing coming to the Giants, that he was here and the respect that I have for him.”
There are plenty of others besides the former Packers who know Graham. He is the Kevin Bacon of the organization, but most need fewer than six degrees to connect to him. He was with the Giants as a defensive line coach from 2016-17. He spent time with the Patriots, working with new Giants head coach Joe Judge and many of the players who have since arrived on the roster from that pipeline, and he also worked with the Packers and Dolphins.
Despite being somewhat well-known, though, Graham, 41, still has a Man of Mystery air to him outside the team.
“We’ve had a lot of discussions, both before he came here as well as since he’s been here, in terms of what he would want to do with the scheme,” Judge said when he hired Graham. “We share the same vision to be able to run multiples and use the players on our roster to the best of their ability to match up against the opponent.”
It’s why even those who know him best — and eventually will need to know him best, such as signal-caller Martinez at inside linebacker — can only speculate about what his Giants defense will look like.
“Basically, when I was working with Pat, I was working within Coach [Mike] Pettine’s defense [in Green Bay],” Martinez said. “Just from understanding Pat and what he is looking for and how he put forth certain things in Coach Pettine’s defense, I think it’s just the aggressive nature. Everyone working together, everyone on the same page, everyone communicating. Everyone is going to know exactly where to be and what to do on every given call. There’s not going to be much, if any, mental errors at all. I know he stressed that a bunch. I don’t know if it is going to be simple, but it will be understood by all 11 that are out there.
“Overall, there is going to be a lot of freedom for me to make checks, make calls and adjustments on a given play pre-snap to give guys chances to make plays,” Martinez added. “There is going to be a lot of communication across the board.”
With the Giants, Graham should have something he lacked in Miami: the players he wants.
Last year, because of transactions and injuries, the Dolphins' roster changed about as often as the opponent. In the Miami secondary, only one of the training camp starters — safety Eric Rowe — played in all 16 games. Former first-round draft choice Minkah Fitzpatrick was traded to Pittsburgh on Sept. 17. Cornerback Xavien Howard played in five games before going on injured reserve with a knee injury. Safeties Reshad Jones, a two-time Pro Bowler, and Bobby McCain appeared in four and nine games, respectively, before they were placed on IR on the same day.
The Giants in 2019 hardly were a demonstration of roster depth, but two of their castoffs — Avery Moss and John Jenkins — wound up starting eight games for the Dolphins.
In his new job, the depth chart definitely will have Graham’s fingerprints all over it.. He got even more players in the draft; seven of the 10 selections were defensive players. In terms of what we’ve seen so far, this is becoming Graham’s defensive roster.
As for how he’ll deploy those pieces, that will be unveiled — to everyone — at some point.
“I think it is going to be an awesome defense,” Martinez said. “I’m just waiting to finally be able to get to learn and see what he has for us.”