Andre Patterson never has to question the Vikings’ faith in him as defensive line coach.
General manager Rick Spielman and company put more belief in Patterson’s teaching methods Saturday while drafting two defensive linemen — Jalyn Holmes and Ade Aruna — in late rounds to fulfill head coach Mike Zimmer’s commitment to a better rotation for the 2018 season.
Both Holmes and Aruna exhibited more potential than production in college.
Spielman still made Holmes the Vikings’ first pick Saturday (102nd overall) even though the hyper-athletic defensive end comes with just five career sacks for Ohio State.
The Vikings will move Holmes, who weighed in at 283 pounds at the combine, to defensive tackle in a search for more interior pass rush, per Spielman.
“I’m excited to work with you,” Patterson told Holmes on the phone. “You’re going to fit in great with my group.”
“Fit in” — literally.
Holmes fits the Vikings’ big-bodied profile for defensive linemen, standing 6 feet and 5 inches tall with 34-inch arms and 10-inch hands.
His wingspan is just shy of the freakish 34¼-inch arms and 10½-inch hands of Danielle Hunter, taken around the same part of the 2015 draft.
Hunter is the Vikings’ shining example of their ability to draft and develop mid- to late-round defensive linemen. The former LSU starter had just 4.5 sacks in college. He’s since had 25.5 sacks during three NFL seasons.
“It gives you a chance to hit on guys that can be pretty special,” Spielman said.
Time will tell if Holmes can also make an ascension at his new position.
Holmes and Aruna, drafted 218th overall out of Tulane, are the Vikings’ latest investments in a better defensive line rotation. Veterans Everson Griffen and Tom Johnson were leaned on too heavily last season. The Vikings replaced Johnson with Sheldon Richardson in free agency.
They then targeted Holmes because of his traits. Patterson, the D-line coach, ran drills at Ohio State’s pro day, getting a closer look at a Buckeyes defender who was buried in a deep depth chart.
Holmes rotated behind the likes of Joey Bosa, so he knows the benefits of having a fresh defensive line.
“It helped us a lot being able to rotate seven or eight guys that can really play in the game,” Holmes said. “I feel like that helps the starters for the fourth quarter.”
Holmes isn’t totally new to defensive tackle. The Buckeyes moved him inside during obvious pass-rushing situations, so he said he’s capable of making the full-time transition. Versatility will help Holmes’ case as he competes with Tashawn Bower, Jaleel Johnson and others for a roster spot.
“I feel like I could be a great defensive tackle,” Holmes said, “with a great coach at the Minnesota Vikings to help me do that.”
Patterson and Rob Rodriguez, the Vikings’ assistant defensive line coach, also will keep busy with Aruna, a 6-5, 262-pound defensive end who is just six years into playing football.
Aruna, originally from Nigeria, left his family as a teenager to come to the United States for an education. He didn’t tell his parents he played football until signing his letter of intent to play for Tulane.
During his first year of football in 2012 (as a senior in high school), Aruna was just trying to learn basics such as rules and how to put on pads.
“Sometimes I’d freelance,” Aruna said. “My coaches would say just pass rush, don’t worry about anything else. Just line up and just pass rush every time.”
He’s come a long way. Aruna had his strongest season as a junior in 2016 when he had 10 tackles for a loss and five sacks. His production fell off a bit when Tulane switched defensive schemes last fall.
To the Vikings, Aruna’s numbers like ‘34-inch arms’ and ‘10 5/8-inch hands’ are more intriguing.
“When you have a guy with that length,” Spielman said, “and he ran 4.58 for us on our watches, we felt that guy has an opportunity to be a potential edge rusher for us.”