At 6-8 and 275 pounds, defensive end Paul Crawford is a towering presence at FIU football practices.
The same can also be said about Andre Patterson, even though his body shape is a lot rounder, he walks with a bit of a limp and is 30 years removed from his playing days.
Patterson spent a decade as an NFL defensive line coach — from 1997 to 2006 — working with some of the giants of the game, including Hall of Famer John Randle and Pro Bowlers Chris Doleman and La’Roi Glover.
Asked if his current players listen to what he has to say, Patterson laughed.
“You have to ask them,” said Patterson, in his first year as FIU’s assistant head coach/defensive line. “But it’s a little different. I have some skins on the wall.
“I’ve been blessed to coach [elite players]. That gives me credibility with [FIU’s linemen].”
Crawford certainly pays his respect to Patterson, who this fall will start his 30th year in coaching, including 15 in college.
“In my eyes, he is clearly one of the top defensive line coaches in the world,” Crawford said. “He’s bringing that information, that knowledge and that wisdom down to the NCAA level and giving us a chance to reach our dreams and provide for our families.”
Patterson, who is from Camden, Ark., came up on the other side of the ball. He was an offensive lineman at the University of Montana before his career was cut short by a knee injury.
Three years ago, Patterson had knee-replacement surgery, but he continues to coach.
Patterson said he came to FIU because new coach Ron Turner “has a great reputation” from their days opposing each other in the NFL.
“I think this is a program on the rise,” Patterson said.
Part of that rise will depend on the defense, which was dominant during Monday’s 12th of 15 spring practices.
Patterson praised defensive tackles Greg Hickman and Fadol Brown and ends Crawford and Giovani Francois as four linemen who have impressed this spring.
Hickman, a senior who ranked second on the team last season with nine tackles for losses, has moved from end to tackle this spring. Francois, a junior, was second on the team with 4 1/2 sacks. Crawford has 61/2 tackles for losses in 31 career games. And Brown, a sophomore, has made perhaps the biggest strides this spring.
The key, Patterson said, is patience.
“A lot of times what gets defensive linemen in trouble is that they think about making plays at all costs,” Patterson said. “If you do that, you can expose the defense.”
Patterson wants his linemen to do their assignments and free up linebackers to make tackles.
“It’s a hard thing to get a group of men to buy into because everyone wants to hear their name over the [loudspeaker],” Patterson said.
“But over a course of a game, the offense can’t continue to let linebackers make plays. When they get desperate to get to our ’backers, then [linemen] have a chance to make plays.”