Keith Patterson has known Jordyn Brooks for barely a year.
But when NFL teams called over the last few months to ask the man who’d taken over as Texas Tech’s defensive coordinator in January 2019 about the player who had quickly become his star last fall, he had plenty of stories to tell.
There was the story of the first meeting between the two shortly after Patterson was hired on the staff of Matt Wells following the firing of Kliff Kingsbury, when Brooks — who the Seahawks took last Thursday with the 27th pick in the first round of the NFL draft — was unsure if he wanted to stay at Tech for his final season of college football.
“You know how it is,’’ said Patterson, who was also Tech’s linebackers coach last year. “It’s an emotional deal when you change coaches.’’
Patterson asked Brooks what his football goals were and Brooks said he wanted to be All-Big-12. He’d been honorable mention each of his first three college seasons.
“I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’ ” Patterson recalled in a phone interview this week. “That’s it?”
He told Brooks if he stayed they could do even more than that together. Maybe, Patterson said he told Brooks, he could be a first-round pick, saying he saw similarities in his game and stature to that of the likes of Devin Bush of Michigan, who had gone 10th overall in 2019.
“I basically just had a gut feeling that I saw something inside of him that maybe he didn’t really see within himself,’’ Patterson said.
Patterson could tell stories of subsequent meetings over the next weeks and months, after Brooks had decided to stay, and after Patterson decided to make the 6-foot, 240-pound Brooks the leader of his defense, shifting him from the outside linebacker spot he had played under Kingsbury to middle linebacker in the 3-3-5 defense of new head coach Matt Wells.
“He had played outside and any time you play to one side of the defense or the other you limit half the opportunity to make plays,’’ Patterson said. “So once I evaluated his skill set it was just common sense to put him in the middle of our defense. The guy made plays all over the field. It just makes him a lot more versatile.’’
Rough times build toughness
As they grew closer, those meetings often veered away from football to the stories Brooks would tell of his upbringing, first in Dallas and then in Houston, as the youngest of seven (with a twin sister). A childhood that included a few years the family was “bouncing in and out of shelters,’’ as Patterson put it.
But there was no self pity in the talks. Patterson said Brooks had to be coaxed into talking about the hard years that helped shape a character that further drew the Seahawks to him.
“He’s been through a lot, and he’s overcome a lot,’’ Seahawks general manager John Schneider said Thursday. “He’s got a ton of grit. He’s our kind of guy.’’
But if there was a story Patterson thought might have said the most about Brooks, it was of a meeting he’d had with Brooks an hour or so before the Nov. 9 game against TCU.
Brooks had gotten hurt the previous week against West Virginia, suffering a labrum tear in his shoulder but staying in to make 11 tackles and recovering a fumble to lead the Red Raiders to their only road win of the season.
He didn’t practice much the following week, but by that point he’d established himself as a high-round draft pick. Earlier in the season, he made 19 tackles in a game at Oklahoma State to earn national defensive player of the week honors, and he on his way to earning not only All-Big-12 honors but second team All-America and he was a finalist for the Butkus Award to the best linebacker in college football.
With Tech at 4-6 and Brooks’ NFL stock only shooting up, Patterson said he understood if Brooks might want to sit out.
“I said, ‘I get it. I really do,’’’ Patterson said. “’I understand. I know you are going to have opportunities to play in the NFL, and I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize that.’ And he looked at me and said, ‘Coach, I don’t have an NFL career (at that moment). I’m a Texas Tech Red Raider and I’m going to play.’ And you just went ‘wow.’’’
Brooks suited up and tried to play through the pain, but after a few series they decided it was best if he sit the rest of the game.
The following week was the final home game against Kansas State and the last game for the seniors.
“There was no pulling him out against Kansas State, I can tell you that,’’ Patterson said.
Brooks sat out the season finale against Texas and eventually had surgery to repair the shoulder.
While he wasn’t 100 percent by the time the NFL scouting combine rolled around in late February, he did enough to solidify his draft standing.
“The kid has shoulder surgery after the season in December, and in January rehabs his shoulder, doesn’t even really get to train and then goes to the combine and runs a 4.5 (officially a 4.54), and all the coaches and scouts that timed him along the side said he ran a 4.4 something,’’ Patterson said. “And he did that with a tweaked hamstring, tweaked it a little bit from overtraining. I didn’t even know how fast the guy was. But I knew one thing — when I watched him chase down (Arizona quarterback) Khalil Tate and (Oklahoma’s) Jalen Hurts and people like that, I knew he could run.’’
Coming to Seattle
Drafting Brooks caught many by surprise. He was generally considered more of a mid-to-late-second-round pick, and linebacker didn’t seem the Seahawks’ biggest need, especially with veterans Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright manning the inside spots.
But there’s some thought the Seahawks could look to change things up a little and play Wright some at strongside linebacker and Brooks at weakside next to Wagner.
Carroll’s comments after Brooks was drafted did nothing to dissuade the idea the Seahawks could indeed look to get Brooks inside immediately.
“Behind the line of scrimmage is exciting,” Carroll said. “To see a guy running that fast and he comes downhill at you. It’s a really good situation. We’re really not worried about it at all. We love the versatility in our players. K.J. can play inside and outside, you saw (Cody) Barton play inside and outside and Bobby has really been the fixture inside. Everybody’s got flexibility. This is going to be something that’s really fun to figure out.”
Patterson said “I couldn’t think of a better fit’’ than the Seahawks for Brooks.
Asked why, he points to their philosophy of lining up two inside backers behind linemen.
“Just putting another defensive lineman up there and covering him up and allowing him to use his speed,’’ Patterson said, noting that Brooks ran on a 4×100 relay team at Stratford High in Houston (the same high school Andrew Luck attended) at a listed weight of 220 pounds.
Brooks said he was cooking when his phone rang Thursday night with the news that the Seahawks were drafting him. He was surprised only in that he hadn’t talked to them since the combine. The Seahawks were playing a cat-and-mouse game to keep their interest in him quiet. They had hoped to trade down and take him at 30 but selected him at 27 when a deal with the Packers fell through.
In his interview with Seattle reporters shortly after he was drafted he recalled some of his first meetings with Patterson.
“He was just pushing me to come in and watch a little bit more extra film,’’ Brooks said. “And at first I was kind of being a bit rebellious because I didn’t think that was something I was supposed to do, watch film outside of what was mandatory. But we just got into the habit of doing it every week and then some. It just became a good habit and it really, really paid off.”
Brooks called Patterson (a moment Texas Tech immortalized on its Twitter account) and the coach reminded him of that first meeting and that “every single thing we had talked about’’ had happened.
“His better days are in front of him, I’m telling you,’’ Patterson said. “I can’t wait to watch him flourish.’’