Allen Park — Detroit Lions rookie linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez has gotten a lot of love from his coaches so far through OTAs and minicamp.
But perhaps the best compliment came Monday from linebacker coach Kelvin Sheppard, who said that in some ways, he doesn’t think of him as a rookie at all.
“There’s things I can do with Malcolm that you might have to scale back on a third-year player, to be honest,” Sheppard said. “He has this serious, kind of humorous personality to him, to where it’s like no-nonsense, but at the same time, you can joke around with him. He’s a man’s man, and I think the trajectory on his career, it’s arrows up on him.”
Keep in mind: Not only has Rodriguez yet to take a snap for the Lions, but he was also drafted in the sixth round (pick No. 188).
Sheppard said Rodriguez, a 23-year-old taken out of Oklahoma State, has “green dot” potential — the ability to call a defense — and added that “although he’s at the WILL linebacker spot, the green dot doesn’t mean the middle linebacker anymore. That means the three-down linebacker that’s on the field. That’s the new age of the NFL, and that’s where we are.”
“He’s the type of player where I say I can close my eyes and just put him out there, and I know — now, there’s an execution piece to that — but as far as above the neck, the mental standpoint of the linebacker position, he’s a joy to coach. He attacks every day,” Sheppard said. “I tell (the linebackers), if you show me you have the communication skills and the mental capacity to handle it, you’re going to wear the green dot. And he is definitely a green dot type of linebacker, a guy that has the capabilities to take control of the defense.”
There’s a case to be made that there are more open jobs at linebacker than at any other position on the team. Sheppard acknowledged “the things we did last year are not acceptable for the standard we set this year.”
One of the issues among the group last season that Sheppard mentioned Monday was tackling, which Rodriguez did a particularly good job of last season at Oklahoma State. He finished seventh in FBS with 76 solo tackles and tied for 10th in forced fumbles (four), which makes Rodriguez a candidate to steal a job for more reasons than his brain.
Back in May, Rodriguez, a former two-time state championship wrestler in high school, talked about his tackling ability by emphasizing his ability to work angles.
“I’m able to see different angles and I get skinny. … It’s one of those things, I’ve been in a lot of positions in wrestling, so it’s just kind of natural for me to use my instincts and kinda slip through things,” Rodriguez said. “I kinda see and weave through the smoke, and like I said, I pull my trigger. If I’m able to beat a lineman underneath, I do it because I can go all the way.”
Heading into training camp, Sheppard said that he thinks there are “about five” leaders at linebacker that have emerged. It sure sounds like Rodriguez is one of them.
Time will tell what that means for his role in Week 1, but for now, it seems as if Sheppard and the Lions are thinking about Rodriguez’s impact far beyond this season.
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.