NFL pass rushers soak up knowledge from Michigan State pass-rushing guru Brandon Jordan

Houston Texans defensive linemen Jerry Hughes and Maliek Collins get offseason work with Michigan State pass-rush specialist Brandon Jordan.

HOUSTON —  A race to the quarterback in July means serious business for Texans defensive linemen Maliek Collins and Jerry Hughes.

As Michigan State pass-rushing specialist Brandon Jordan gave instructions, Collins and Hughes simultaneously fired out of their three-point stances to explosively cross the line of scrimmage Friday morning at C.E. King High School. Collins takes a more direct path and wins the drill, punctuating his high-energy pass-rushing style with a loud smack of a blocking dummy that simulates another fallen quarterback.

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NFL defensive linemen working with Michigan State pass-rush specialist Brandon Jordan

For Collins and Hughes, joined at this workout session by Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Ed Oliver, Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Roy Robertson-Harris, Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Andre Anthony, and Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Tashawn Bower, it’s about gaining knowledge and building an edge in one of the most ultra-competitive aspects of football: the battle in the trenches.

Jordan is at the center of it all as a former private trainer who organizes workouts around the country with some of the top pass rushers in the game.

In NFL circles, pass-rushing is regarded as a rare craft with a wide variance of styles for how to relentlessly pressure the quarterback.

A 34-year-old former Austin Peay defensive line coach, Jordan was hired in January by Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker on the recommendation of NFL defensive line coach Brentson Buckner following a Bill Walsh training camp fellowship last year with the Arizona Cardinals.

Jordan is a New Orleans native who has trained everyone from Maxx Crosby, Jadeveon Clowney, Cam Heyward, Bud Dupree, Chandler Jones, Von Miller, T.J. Watt, Rashan Gary, and John Franklin-Myers and Jon Greenard.

For Jordan, his work is all about coordinated movements and concentrating on the finer nuances of the game to consistently harass quarterbacks and get them on the ground. Through his pass-rushing drills, engaging their hips, hands, and feet, and employing low hurdles, players get better.

“We’re working inside and outside, hands and feet: the whole complex of what makes a great defensive lineman and pass rusher,” said Oliver, a 2019 first-round draft pick, former Outland trophy winner and consensus All-American from the University of Houston. “This is the time when you get a feel for catching offensive lineman’s hands and get a feel for your hands and getting your feet underneath you. On the inside of the line, it’s a lot of traffic. If your feet aren’t clean, a sack can be taken away because you’re not getting your feet underneath you. You need feet. You need hands, too, and making sure they’re in sync. That’s a big part of it, too.

“We used to get Brandon all to ourselves, but he’s in Michigan now. I’m so happy the fruits of his labor are paying off. Just coming out here, working out with guys I know and picking their brains, it’s fun.”

Ed Oliver, Jerry Hughes, Rashan Gary putting in offseason work

The Bills exercised Oliver’s fifth-year option this offseason, at a cost of $10.7 million, for 2023 after he started every game last season and recorded a career-high 41 tackles, four sacks, and a forced fumble.

“Ed has been working,” said Jordan, who has been training Oliver since his college days. “To see the way he’s been growing every year with his technique and the way he goes about his business and knowledge of how to do it, it’s been great to see him grow.”

A native of Sugar Land, Texas, Hughes is a former Indianapolis Colts first-round draft pick with a proven and extensive repertoire of pass-rushing moves who played for the Buffalo Bills for the past nine seasons. The 33-year-old is entering his 13th NFL campaign after signing with the Texans this offseason.

“It’s been great to craft and work on my football skills and take my skill level to the next level,” Hughes said. “Being out here with someone like Brandon who loves and breathes football and understands the intricacies that comes with being a pass rusher and how to get after the quarterback is something I need to keep me fresh and keep me on my toes.

“We’re really focused and working on these drills and our football work to add that to our game. It feels like you’re fighting through traffic, fighting through the offensive linemen to get to the quarterback. There are a lot of dual-threat quarterbacks in our game. You need to have that extra gear to get them down once you beat your guy one-on-one. Working on this craft, getting our hands and feet in order, it’s going to translate to the field.”

Hughes has recorded 58 career sacks, 412 tackles, and 82 tackles for losses. He signed a two-year, $10 million contract in May to join his hometown NFL team.

“Jerry is just a good vet, he’s like a fine wine who gets better every year,” Jordan said. “You don’t get in the league and stay 13 years for no reason. You see him finish every rep. He’s a master of his craft and a perfectionist.”‘

Jordan is particularly proud of how Gary, a Green Bay Packers outside linebacker, has progressed into one of the top young defensive players in the game. Gary (6-foot-5, 277 pounds) has been working closely with Jordan and is coming off a breakthrough season. The former first-round draft pick from Michigan had a career-high 9 1/2 sacks, 28 quarterback hits and 81 quarterback pressures last season.

“The key with Rashan to his recipe is work ethic,” Jordan said. “You see how he treats every day like it’s game day. You see Rashan, and he’s got his headphones on when he comes into work, and you would think it’s gameday. He just takes every rep serious to be the best in the league, and he’s going to be there.”

Jordan’s uncommon path to success

Retired NFL nose tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison initially noticed Jordan’s unique movement drills on social media and hired him for extra work during the offseason.

Since then, Jordan’s career has taken off as word spread around the league, and he began to work with other veteran defensive linemen, including a since-retired Gerald McCoy. Jordan transformed his business as CEO of Brandon Jordan Trench Performance into a cottage industry of training defensive players. Jordan has trained over 200 players on NFL rosters.

“It’s good that these guys get to share knowledge. I just work on movement with these guys,” Jordan said. “I get their feet coordinated with their hands, and they learn how to keep their bodies coordinated. They get to learn from each other. They give knowledge, and we teach them how to rush, what to do, how to set things up. It’s good for me. I get to learn from them, too.”

A former offensive tackle at Missouri S&T who played football overseas with the Norway Bergen Storm and the Paris La Courneuve Flash, Jordan coached high school football in New Orleans for three years before founding his own company.

Now, Jordan is with a rising Big Ten football program that has been landing several elite recruits.

Next chapter as Michigan State pass-rush specialist

“It’s a blessing,” Jordan said. “I ain’t going to lie to you. I never thought it would happen this way, but it’s just a story of just working, always working, always looking to give back and give knowledge. These NFL guys taught me a lot about my business. It’s a blessing, man. Especially to be at Michigan State, which is an up-and-coming spot. We’re going to shock the world.”

Being back in Houston represented a return to his roots. He lived there for three years before he landed the Michigan State job. Returning to Texas with NFL players is significant for Jordan, who has several upcoming events this summer, including a pass-rushing retreat in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and a camp in Arizona.

“I’ve been missing it, the camaraderie, the work ethic of these guys, and just crafting,” Jordan said. “It’s just great to be back.”

Jordan and Collins have collaborated on some unconventional drills. That overtime work took place in the living room of Collins’ apartment last season. They would shift around couches and chairs to create enough space to keep Collins’ game sharp.

“We would move the furniture around, and I would put a chest pad on so he doesn’t kill me,” Jordan said. “We would just work moves. Maliek is quiet, but he’s a worker. Nobody works harder than him. He’s quiet, but the sky is the limit. He could be one of the best defensive tackles in the league.”

All of that work paid dividends for the former Nebraska standout, who has also played for the Dallas Cowboys and the Las Vegas Raiders. Collins parlayed a disruptive season as the Texans’ featured three-technique defensive tackle, a key spot in coach Lovie Smith’s defense, into a two-year, $17 million contract.

“BT (Jordan) is big-time now, so I’m just happy we got him out from Michigan State to work with us,” Collins said. “We’ve been missing him. We need him. He is a student of the game. He puts drills together for us to transition to the way the game is played now. That’s what I appreciate the most is you can see what you do here translate on the film. I’m definitely proud of him. I’m excited to see what’s next and how far he can take Michigan State.”

Work with NFL athletes already impacting recruiting efforts

Living in East Lansing, working alongside former NFL defensive linemen Marco Coleman and Kevin Vickerson, and learning from Tucker while recruiting some of the best prospects across the nation, it has been a heady rise for Jordan.

A former Division II offensive lineman, Jordan was a volunteer defensive line coach at John Ehret High School in New Orleans. Under his tutelage, six defensive linemen earned Division I scholarships. Jordan made ends meet by doing yard work at a housing complex and hauling trash. Then, he moved to Houston to live with his uncle in 2018 and launched his brand.

Through social media work, making reels of videos, he built a strong reputation in the industry. Now, Jordan is regarded as a rising star in college football coaching circles. He previously had a job offer from LSU before being hired by Michigan State.

“This is a cutting-edge hire that will propel the program,” Tucker said when he hired Jordan. “I can’t wait to get to work.”

Working in tight spaces, using shorter hurdles to emphasize the need to get the feet moving in a rapid-fire fashion, Jordan designs drills with a practical purpose. And his rise in the profession is emotional for him. Jordan is grateful to have earned the trust of so many top NFL players. High school recruits frequently pepper Jordan with questions about his work with players like Von Miller.

“I’ve been waiting for this opportunity,” he said. “Coach Tucker has been working with me a lot and helping me make the transition, and he still lets me train my pro guys. It’s been a blessing to have a cool guy to work with.

“Doing this, it helps with recruiting. Man, that’s the thing they want to talk about is the guys I work with. A lot of guys we recruit, I’ve already trained. It’s a blessing.”

Aaron Wilson is the NFL Insider for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL.

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