by Chuck Pool (cpool@edu) -
Rice plays in Pittsburgh for the first time in 67 years on Saturday and while the history between the two schools is a pair of games in 1950 & 1951, the return to the Steel City has more immediate appeal for a pair of coaches for the Owls.
Quarterback coach Wesley Beschorner knows Heinz Stadium well, having worked for the Panthers last season in a quality control position, helping guide quarterback Nate Peterman to a sterling senior year and a spot in the NFL.
Rice Assistant Head Coach Darrell Patterson, who is in his 11th year on the staff, the last eight guiding the Owls linebacker is less familiar with the Panthers’ current home, but he was a regular in the stadium that preceded Heinz Field at the same location, Three Rivers Stadium.
Patterson grew up in Cannonsburg, less than 20 miles from the sidelines where he will roam on Saturday. He was an all-state linebacker in a state long-known for rugged gridiron action.
“I grew up with the mines and the mills,” Patterson said. “There was a lot move blue collar activity and football flourished in all the various valleys, the Beaver Valley, the Allegheny Valley, all those different areas. It’s changed now, but they are still known for great football, great offensive linemen and for years, this was the place to find a quarterback.”
Patterson was able to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers rise from a tepid past to become one of the NFL’s storied franchises after the team made the move from Pitt’s on-campus stadium to their new riverside home in 1970.
“I did go see the Steelers quite a bit when I was growing up. My godmother’s niece was married to Larry Brown (Steelers tight end and tackle from 1971-84) so we would go to games and sit in the end zone. I had the chance to watch Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier and all those guys play.”
He also took in his share of Pitt games at Pitt Stadium, watching the likes of Tony Dorsett and Hugh Green lead the Panthers to national acclaim.
On Friday night, he’ll have a chance to visit with some friends and family and will see more after the game. But his greatest excitement is reserved for the continuing development of his two inside linebackers, Emmanuel Ellerbee and DJ Green.
The tandem hold down the top two spots in tackles for the Owls, with Ellerbee picking up where left off in 2016, again leading Conference USA in tackles. Green has thrived in his first year as a starter, piling up 21 tackles, 14 of them in the last two games.
“Each game they get a little better,” Patterson stated. “The speed of the game is slowing down for them as their understanding of the defense grows. Their maturity and experience helps them. There is a difference between the two styles of defense philosophies between the 3-4 and the 4-2-5.
“It’s letting those big guys up front really work for you,” Patterson continued. “You’re just flowing and roaming and looking for somebody to go hit. It is a fun defense and you can flourish in it as long as you are able to continuously adapt and put yourself in position with great leverage. You just let those big guys up front work and make sure you stay friends with them. It starts from the middle. Crum (Zach Abercrumbia) has been incredible and that’s where you build it, from the inside out,” he added.
Patterson’s words are not just coaching theory. He thrived in a similar role at TCU, compiling 544 tackles, which remains the standard Horned Frog defenders chase to this day. He knows that total was not a singular achievement, something Ellerbee and Green now can full appreciate from their own experiences.
“It is the defensive line that makes the defense work,” Patterson said “A lot of people give credit to the linebackers, but they’re the second level players and they get the fruits of the (linemen’s) labor. I’ve always said, If you see a turtle on a fence post, he didn’t get there by himself.”