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2020 NFL Draft: Former NC State DL coach Kevin Patrick on why Larrell Murchison was a steal for Titans

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TaxSlayer Gator Bowl - North Carolina State v Texas A&M Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

One of the more intriguing picks for the Titans in 2020 NFL Draft, North Carolina State’s Larrell Murchison was wisely snatched up by Tennessee in the fifth round.

Former Wolfpack defensive line coach Kevin Patrick (now in the same role at FAU) had a front-row seat to Murchison’s unique path to the league, helping him sharpen his talent and develop at a rapid pace. Murchison arrived at NC State by way of JUCO in 2017, and managed to go from raw and unplayable to big-time contributor and play-maker by the time the Titans called his name last Saturday.

Coach Patrick is no stranger to defensive line talent. Throughout his illustrious career, he’s coached big-time talents such as Bradley Chubb, Jason Pierre-Paul and B.J. Hill just to name a select few. I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing him in the past, and I knew I was in for a treat when he agreed to speak with me about Murchison. When he talks D-line play, you listen.

Coach Patrick and I discussed Murchison’s development and work ethic, the physical traits he brings to the game, and why Tennessee was the perfect landing spot for him.

JM: Larrell Murchison arrived at NC State in 2017 and he red-shirted the season at defensive tackle. By all accounts, he was a bit of a mess technically. You’ve detailed in the past that he struggled to even get lined up in a proper stance when he first arrived. What was your initial impression of him?

KP: It doesn’t matter if they come to us from high school or JUCO, a lot of guys are overwhelmed when they first arrive. He was no different. They take the next step and it’s such a different ball game. When Larrell first got here, I joked around with him a lot. I wasn’t trying to pick on him, I was just trying to show him what he could become through hard work and focus. As long as they’re coachable, we’ll figure it out. His stance was incredibly awkward when he first got here (laughs). There was a lot to clean up.

It took some time. When he first got here, we had four incredible defensive linemen. All of us were very fortunate that he could take that red-shirt year. It was a good opportunity for him to sit and grow. That’s exactly what he did. That year was pivotal to his development. It gave him a chance to get acclimated. It paid off in a major way. We had a lot of great players that he looked up to. He used his time effectively. He committed to becoming a better player.

I’ll never forget sitting down with him after his second year. He really started to jump off the screen. You can go back and watch the game against Virginia during his junior year. There was such a big difference. I remember asking him what he thought the difference was from year one to year two. He looked at me with such a professional stare and said that he learned to never come to camp out of shape again. He admitted that he arrived from JUCO out of shape. He wasn’t ready. A lot of those JUCO kids don’t know any better.

Secondly, he told me that every drill that we did, every coaching point that’s made, everything that you ask of me coach, I’m gonna do it with complete 100% focus. He was all about it. He understood it. I could see it in his drill work. It started to pop up on film. The focus was unbelievable. I watched him mature into the player he is now. He didn’t spit the bit. He took it and ran with it. He was so impressive to coach.

That red-shirt year was such a unique year. He used to get mad at me (laughs). I remember pulling up the film and saying, “Good lord son, what are you doing?” on more than a few occasions (laughs). We can laugh about it now. It was such a unique year.

JM: You mentioned the guys he sat behind. That would have been Bradley Chubb and B.J. Hill, among others.

KP: Chubb, Hill, Justin Jones and Kentavius Street just to name a few. We had so many great defensive linemen that year. It was such a good opportunity for him to develop in his red-shirt year. That’s exactly what he did.

JM: You saw it happen. He goes on to start every game in 2018 and he took another big step forward in 2019 with 12 tackles for loss and seven sacks. He continued to develop.

KP: I spoke to him and James Smith-Williams just before the draft, another defensive linemen that we had in 2019 that was drafted this past weekend. I thanked them for their hard work. A lot of things transpired prior to this season. We switched defenses and put them in unique situations. It wasn’t always the most comfortable for them. They had to learn some new things. Murchison just took it and ran with it. He had so much nuance and purpose.

I’ve been coaching for a long time and I’ve never seen a young man grow so fast and mature in the matter that Murchison did. He matured so much within a single season. It was so impressive to watch. You can go back and look at pictures from his first year. Take a look at how skinny his neck and arms were. He put in the work with our strength and conditioning staff. Our staff did a tremendous job with him in the weight room. He took that same attitude with him to the field and to the meeting room. It was very impressive.

You mentioned his production. He basically played with three fingers on one hand. Do you realize how impressive that is? That’s a very difficult thing to do. He broke his fingers early in camp. I don’t even remember when it happened. Quite frankly, he walked up to me and told me that he broke his fingers. I remember asking him when that happened and he said that it happened the other day. He didn’t whimper about it. He never said a word about it. He just went on about his day. Let me tell you, that thing was seriously broken. I thought it was gonna fall off his hand at one point (laughs). He had this big cast on it.

Some of what we threw at him, he had never played in some of those technique alignments before we got our hands on him. He was very productive as a three-technique. He can play off the edge or he can come inside. We put him at the four-technique and asked him to do some things that he had never done before. He bought into it. You talk about some of the production, if we had him for another year, that production would have jumped through the roof in my opinion. That was impressive as a whole.

JM: NFL teams are looking for guys that can disrupt the pocket. Murchison did that in 2019. He has the numbers to back it up. What are some of his main strengths as a pass rusher?

KP: He has great hands. He really does. What I saw him really develop was his ability to expose an offensive linemen’s weakness. He understands what they’re good at and what they struggle with. He does a great job trying to expose that. Not only are his hands great, but he understands how to get an O-linemen off balance. That’s where his short area quickness really paid off. When he gets them in that position, he can use his power to take advantage. I watched his football IQ improve on what felt like a daily basis.

You really saw a big difference year-to-year. He studies the film of his opponent. He identifies opportunities on tape. To summarize, when I think about his pass rush arsenal, I think about his short area quickness, his hands and his football IQ. Those three things are very impressive.

There’s one question I get asked all the time. Hey coach, what do you look for in defensive linemen? I look for grit. Give me a tough kid any day of the week and we’ll make something out of him. Grit has to be in the DNA. That’s what Larrell Murchison has. He worked hard to become a great player. That goes for both the run game and the passing game.

JM: We’ve touched on some of the defensive linemen that you’ve coached. Heck, you’ve had a bunch of NFL talents at NC State as of late. You mentioned Bradley Chubb as one of them. You also coached Jason Pierre-Paul at South Florida. Those two guys specifically are more gifted athletically than Murchison is. He’s currently listed at 6-foot-2, 297 pounds. Some people say that he’s undersized. I know that arm length is important to you and that’s potentially another knock on him. Did you approach coaching him differently than you did a Bradley Chubb or Jason Pierre-Paul?

KP: He’s listed at 297-pounds now but he played at 280 for us. I’m a firm believer in approaching all of them differently. You can name any defensive linemen I’ve ever coached and I would tell you that I approached all of them differently. I coached Broderick Washington Jr. down at Texas Tech, he was just drafted by the Baltimore Ravens. I approached him differently than I did Murchison.

Every one of their stances look a little bit different. As long as you understand good technique and fundamentals, we’ll incorporate your abilities into it. Pierre-Paul and Chubb are athletic freaks. Those guys can jump over a building. That’s not Murchison. He’s aware of what his strengths are. He never gave up. His mentality is to outwork everybody. He wanted to be tougher than everybody and he had fun doing it. He understands what his strengths and weaknesses are.

That’s what I tell those guys. He doesn’t have to be Chubb or Pierre-Paul. I told him that from day one that he has to be the best version of Larrell Murchison that he can be. That’s exactly what he did. That’s how he approached every single day.

He knows what his weaknesses are. He also knew what his greatest strength was, and it was his work ethic. Nobody was gonna outwork him. He was always the toughest player on the field.

JM: I love that. In closing, let’s assume he’s healthy throughout his career. What projection do you see for his pro career?

KP: First of all, the Tennessee Titans have an excellent D-line coach in Terrell Williams. I love the system they run in Tennessee. I texted Larrell after he was drafted and I told him that the fit was perfect. He landed with a great organization. I love Terrell Williams. He’s an excellent coach. I can’t speak on how quickly it will come together for him, but I truly believe that he’s gonna find a way to help them out on defense. He’s gonna soak in whatever they give him right out the gate and he’s gonna find a way to make an impact. He’ll take his opportunity and make the most of it. He’s gonna take what he can take. He has that much drive and passion.

I can’t speak on projections but he’s one hell of a player and he’s one hell of a teammate. He’s gonna help the Titans win football games. Like I said, he couldn’t have landed in a better spot. He couldn’t have landed with a better organization or with a better defensive line coach. It’s a perfect fit. Even his celebration screams Nashville to me (laughs). I have a big picture of him playing the guitar up in my office. I was just looking at it the other day and I said to myself that’s Nashville right there (laughs).

I was watching the draft with my family and certain teams would come up and I would say to myself that I didn’t think this was the one. When the Titans came on the clock there in the fifth round, I looked at my wife and I said I think this might be it. I love the fit. I really do.

I want to make myself clear. I’ve always said that us coaches get too much credit and not enough blame. Larrell is the one that did this. He took everything and he ran with it. He deserves all of the credit in the world. He was driven to be the best possible version of himself that he could be. That’s how he approached it both on and off the field. I’m so thrilled for him, I’m thrilled for James Smith-Williams and for Broderick Washington Jr. as well.

I was lucky to be able to coach young men that took it and ran with it. I never asked for all of the draft picks. Just give me five guys that I can coach. They made a difference. They’re the reason their dreams were achieved last weekend. It makes me very happy.

You love all of your players but you always have favorites (laughs). Murchison is one of my all-time favorites, and it’s not because he got drafted. Some of my favorite players that I’ve coached didn’t get drafted. Keith McCaskill (South Florida) is one of my favorite players of all-time and he didn’t get drafted. Keith was a bad ass. You just want them to become the best version of themselves and if they get drafted, they get drafted.

When it comes to Larrell Murchison, there couldn’t be a better fit for that young man and his family than the Tennessee Titans.