Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy full of confidence in pass coverage
HOUSTON — Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who has shown marked improvement with his pass coverage this offseason, was discussing the intricacies of his strides this week when he revealed the root of style.
It’s become increasingly challenging for linebackers to hold their own in coverage in the NFL, as offenses work to isolate them with supremely athletic tight ends, quicker slot receivers and speedy running backs. So what’s been the key to Van Noy’s development since he arrived on the Pats in October?
“Confidence,” Van Noy proudly boasted while flashing a grin and walking away to drop the proverbial microphone on the interview.
Van Noy is passionate and energetic, and he exudes both qualities on the field. He is also loyal, and his teammates appreciate the way in which Van Noy dedicates himself to their cause.
There was an example Wednesday during the Patriots’ joint practice with the Texans when Van Noy ran over to tight end Stephen Anderson and swiped the ball from him well after the play. That obviously wouldn’t fly during a game, but it was a simple gesture that almost certainly got under the Texans’ skin and picked up the Patriots at the same time. It was a move that would make former Celtics forward Kevin Garnett proud.
“Honestly, I just want to win at the end of the day,” Van Noy explained of his post-whistle action. “I just want to perform for my family as well as my teammates. I’m just happy to be here and be a Patriot.”
Van Noy’s tenure with the Lions, who selected him in 2014 with a second-round draft pick, was largely forgettable, and he wasn’t shy last season about their inability to use him correctly. After Lions coach Jim Caldwell gave up on Van Noy, he traded the linebacker and a seventh-round pick to the Patriots for a sixth-rounder.
Van Noy was used as a rotational player upon his insertion to the lineup in November and ultimately grew into a starting-caliber role down the stretch. It was a testament to his work ethic because Van Noy spent hours at the facility with Dont’a Hightower to watch film and soak up his defensive assignments.
The Patriots recognized Van Noy’s talent and had to put him in positions to succeed, so they typically fielded him in passing situations to give him a chance to chase the quarterback or fall into coverage if necessary. He racked up 1.5 sacks, three quarterback hits, five pressures, two forced fumbles, a drawn holding penalty, two run stuffs, an interception and a pass breakup.
“When he first got here, off the rip, he was probably one of our better cover guys,” safety Duron Harmon said. “I could see over time, he got better at covering. That’s hard, covering these tight ends, these backs. They’re so elusive and such great athletes. When you have a ’backer like him who can continually show that he can go out and cover them, it’s tremendous for the defense.”
It wasn’t always perfect. Van Noy surrendered Kenny Stills’ 25-yard touchdown in Week 17 against the Dolphins and was a target on those pesky wheel routes. But if he was a liability, he would’ve been exposed in the playoffs, and he was only targeted twice (one reception for 7 yards) in the playoffs, which featured matchups against pass-happy offenses like the Steelers and Falcons.
Van Noy has shown up throughout training camp, too. He broke up five passes in team drills over the course of 14 live practices. For some context, the rest of the linebackers didn’t break up any. Van Noy, who is typically reserved with the media, beamed when discussing his progress in coverage, as he has worked hard to improve his leverage and his ability to read his keys before the snap.
“I mean, I work really hard at that every day,” Van Noy said. “I have great coaches that help with the technique and players that I go to and ask to pick their brains.”
Van Noy’s greatest strength is probably his ability to get after the quarterback, and the Patriots will ask him to do plenty of that this season. But he’ll potentially remain on the field as much as any linebacker except Hightower because he is versatile enough to play any of their linebacker positions.
For those reasons, within a strong defense like the Patriots’ reigning championship unit, this season could serve as Van Noy’s long-awaited coming-out party.
“I think sometimes you just need a change of scenery,” Harmon said. “I’m just excited that he came here because he has continued to do great things for us, and I think he’ll do great things for us this year.”