It may be a common thought that rookies should be brought along slowly, in general. Jim Schwartz, during his tenure with the Detroit Lions, was notorious for starting and keeping veterans over younger players, and it was excruciatingly slow at times.
Watching Eric Ebron and Kyle Van Noy in camp, one thing is increasingly clear and that is that Jim Caldwell does not mess around with player development. Especially in the case of Kyle Van Noy, thought by many to be a perfect fit for Teryl Austin’s new defensive scheme. The team is pulling no punches with the rookie 2nd rounder, immediately throwing him to the wolves in every drill.
He’s Being Asked to Play like Terrell Suggs
Terrell Suggs revolutionized the LB role over the past decade. The OLB/DE hybrid position existed before, but no one better embodied that position than this former Defensive Player of the Year. It was no secret that the Lions targeted Kyle Van Noy for his abilities as a pass rusher as well as his overall abilities. Van Noy has worked with the defensive ends on many drills and it’s evident there will be some plays (likely passing plays) where he has his hands in the dirt to rush off the edge.
Kyle Van Noy and Terrell Suggs are obviously very different players, but the Lions are putting Van Noy in a similar role on many plays and asking him to wreck plays. He has done alright in pass rushing drills from the edge, but he tries too often to finesse his way around blockers rather than attacking and using his athleticism to win. There is plenty of learning that still needs to be done, but he is very far along from a technical standpoint which should shorten the curve as a rusher.
He’s Being Asked to Play like DeAndre Levy
In coverage, it is more often than not considered a “mismatch” when a player gets to line up against a linebacker in coverage. There are a few linebackers, however, where that can become problematic. DeAndre Levy proved last year that he can be a terror in coverage. Similarly, Kendall Wright of the Seahawks and Patrick Willis proved themselves more than capable in coverage. In general, however, those players are asked to trail a RB or TE.
On several occasion, over the course of multiple days, Kyle Van Noy has been asked to cover not only tight ends and running backs, but slot receivers. It went about as well as you would expect it to, with Golden Tate and Jeremy Ross getting some of their own at the expense of the rookie linebacker. The Lions haven’t stopped asking him to do it, however, and should those pieces fall together correctly, Teryl Austin‘s scheme goes from promising to terrifying.
He’s Being Asked to Play like Ray Lewis
A Linebacker that can also rush the passer is a rare thing. Von Miller, Kamerion Wimbley, and only a handful of other players can claim to actually be GOOD at both the normal duties of linebacking and also pass rushing. Likewise, only a few players like DeAndre Levy and Sean Lee are exceptionally good in coverage as well as their regular duties. The white whale of linebackers, however, are those that can both rush the passer AND play in coverage. Players like Patrick Willis or Ray Lewis. The incomparable players.
And yet, all signs point to the Lions imagining a similar role for Kyle Van Noy. I’m not going to claim he IS the second coming of Ray Lewis, in fact the rookie would have a pretty steep climb to get to that point. They clearly have a very high opinion of him, however, and aren’t pulling any punches getting him prepared.
The Lions are expecting a player who can rush the passer from any position. They expect someone who can line up with his hands in the dirt and cause havoc in the backfield. They expect him to be able to drop into coverage seamlessly. They expect him to do everything. They expect him to do everything well.
Is Kyle Van Noy that kind of player? That once in a generation talent who can do everything? Even as someone who liked him a lot as a prospect I’m skeptical. The Lions seem determined to prove that he is one.