Everyone jokes that New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is able to squeeze water from a rock and how he’s able to capitalize on the skill sets of players that failed to emerge or succeed with another franchise. Belichick loves to take talented castoffs and provide them with the necessary role and support to allow them to thrive.
Linebacker Kyle Van Noy is one obvious example. The Detroit Lions drafted Van Noy in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Van Noy was an edge defender in college, notorious for racking up huge plays around the line of scrimmage. Inexplicably, the Lions decided to convert Van Noy into an off-the-ball linebacker responsible for covering players in the slot.
While that might have ultimately helped Van Noy develop into a more well-rounded linebacker, it was certainly a failure on the Lions coaching staff to not put Van Noy in a position to succeed. Van Noy spoke with the media to explain how the Patriots do it differently.
“I feel like in other systems they try to conform you into what they wanted and I think here they let me play to my strengths and love what I do,” Van Noy said on Monday morning. “Any time that you can help out the team in a victory and get put in position to succeed makes you have confidence and I think the guys that are on the field have confidence in you as well. Any time you're in a position to succeed it always makes you happy and confident to play some football. It's just not me personally. I think everybody on the defense is put in a place to succeed and it's showing right now.”
The Lions failed to put Van Noy in a position where he could succeed and build confidence and that has a far-reaching affect on the rest of the defense. Detroit envisioned a role in their defense and asked Van Noy to fill it, despite not being a perfect match.
Belichick and the Patriots look at the problem from a different angle. They see the skills that Van Noy has and they crafted their defense to capitalize on his abilities. They’re allowing Van Noy to play closer to the line of scrimmage- he has the most quarterback pressures of any 4-3 linebacker in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus- and he’s rewarding the coaches with a high level of play.
“Kyle’s a versatile player that can do a lot of different things for us,” Belichick said on Monday. “He can play on the end of the line, he can play off the line, he can rush the passer from a variety of positions, he’s a good coverage player – man and zone – and he’s really done a good job for us in the kicking game, although we haven’t really had the opportunity to use him. We’ve had a lot of other guys play well in that phase of the game, so we haven’t required much of him there, but he has a lot of skills and his versatility is certainly coming in handy at several points in the season this year where we’ve been able to plug him into a spot where we maybe didn’t have the type of depth that we wanted or needed, and he was able to provide that and provide it at a high-quality level of play.
“He’s a very instinctive player. He finds the ball, he knows where the ball is, he anticipates well, so no matter where you put him, he kind of has a little knack for anticipating or getting a little jump on what he needs to do from that position, so that helps him, too.”
Van Noy’s role at linebacker has morphed with the loss of Dont’a Hightower, and so the Patriots are trying to find other players like Patrick Chung or Marquis Flowers or Jordan Richards who can take on that role of covering running backs out of the backfield and allow Van Noy to spend more time at the line of scrimmage. Instead of forcing another player into a role that doesn’t suit their abilities, Belichick and the coaches have created a role specifically for what Van Noy can do and found other players to supplement with their respective strengths.
And that’s why Belichick gets the most out of every player on his roster and why players always seem to do better in New England than they do on other teams.