A couple of weeks ago, Detroit Lions linebacker coach Kelvin Sheppard received incredible praise for novice linebacker in the sixth round Malcolm Rodriguez.
“Malcolm Rodriguez is one of the smarter young players I’ve ever been around,” Sheppard told Detroit Lions beat reporter Tim Twentyman. “That kid, it’s because he’s a naturally smart player, but on top of that is the work he puts in. This kid came here in two days and he knew both (linebacker) places.”
With Lions’ offseason activities coming to an end now, Sheppard reflected on what Rodriguez has been able to accomplish because of his innate ability to understand the game at the level of an NFL veteran.
“There are things I can do with Malcolm that you may have to reduce on a third-year player, to be honest,” Sheppard said.
One of these things includes having the potential for a green dot. The “green dot” refers to the one helmet on the defense (with a green sticker on) that has a radio connection to the coaches on the sideline. It allows them to receive game calls and then communicate with the rest of the defense. While the green dot has traditionally been given to the team’s center linebacker in the past, the Lions will operate by giving it to the one they consider the best communicator among their linebackers with three down, regardless of whether they play MIKE (middle) linebacker position or play WILL position (weak side) —the current position Rodriguez has.
“If you show me that you have the communication ability and the mental capacity to handle it, you will carry the green dot,” Sheppard explained. “And (Rodriguez) is definitely a linebacker with green dots, a guy who has the ability to take control of the defense.”
But the mental side of the game is only part of the equation. Rodriguez comes to the NFL with some size limitations that may challenge his ability to actually perform on the field. His 30-inch arms are well below the NFL average, although his understanding of the influence of his wrestling background has certainly helped him there.
Anyway, Rodriguez still has a lot of work ahead of him before he’s really into the green dot conversation. He has mostly been on the third team during offseason activities. That said, Sheppard admitted that no place on the roster is currently determined, not even that of veteran linebacker Alex Anzalone.
“(Anzalone) has the most time on the task in my room, but that does not designate him as the starter,” Sheppard said. “The things we did last year are not acceptable for the standard set this year, so do not tell me about what a guy did last year; I will not hear it, especially from my room is worried. Now he has the most time on the task, so he gets a nod first, but that does not mean that it is his place. If the next guy does it and does it on a higher level, he understands just like the other eight, nine guys in the room, that that guy will be the guy on the court in week 1. “