Niyo: Lions’ Kyle Van Noy needs to deliver in Year 3

John Niyo
The Detroit News

Allen Park — There was no mistaking the message last winter, just as there’s no mistaking the opportunity now for Kyle Van Noy, a former high draft pick whose first two seasons in Detroit have provided few, if any, highlights.

“Our message was, ‘You need to get better,’ ” said Teryl Austin, the Lions defensive coordinator.

Better in every way, too, from his film study to his footwork, in his eye discipline and his overall conditioning.

“That was the message,” Austin said. “And he got it.”

And now — just maybe — the Lions will see what they’ve got in Van Noy, a second-round pick (40th overall) from that disappointing 2014 draft.

This spring, they’re finally seeing signs of something, at least, though it’s hard to tell — halfway through OTAs, with training camp two months away — just what that’ll look like come fall, when the pads come on and the kid gloves come off.

Van Noy, for now, is practicing as the starting strong-side linebacker, joining Tahir Whitehead and DeAndre Levy with the No. 1 unit. And after what we’ve seen from the former BYU standout his first two NFL seasons — the first a lost cause because of injury, the second where he simply looked lost — that’s a start.

“Kyle’s doing much better,” Austin said. “He’s in phenomenal shape, running around. He’s in much better positions now than he was last year, in terms of once the ball is snapped. So, I think that’s good. Again, we’ll see how he does in the preseason. But right now, I’m pleased with where his development is.”

Clock ticking

Van Noy seems to be as well, though he declined an interview request after Wednesday’s practice, saying he was short on time.

That may be true for his status on this roster as well, though no one’s putting it quite like that yet.

Van Noy spent the first half of his rookie season on injured reserve with a sports hernia, and played sparingly the rest of the way for the dominant defense. Last year, a hip strain again hampered his preseason preparation. And though he was a core special-teams player, he was on the field for 80 defensive snaps in 15 games, even with Levy out for the season and Stephen Tulloch playing a reduced role.

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Ideally, the 6-foot-3, 248-pound Van Noy would fill a part-time role for this Lions defense, providing some pass-rushing versatility — that was his strength as an on-the-ball defender in college — as well as some formation flexibility as Austin switches fronts and disguises blitzes.

“But everybody kind of develops at their own pace,” Austin said. “Sometimes in our league it’s not fast enough, and that’s why sometimes guys get cut and then go to another team and then all of a sudden they turn into good players. It’s because of their learning curve, and their development. So, I’m hopeful. We don’t have pads on, but right now I’m pleased with where he is. …

“He’s in good shape, he’s moving around. He knows what he’s doing — he doesn’t look lost.”

Shaping up

He did a year ago, looking uncomfortable in his role and unsure in his coverage reads on those rare occasions when he saw the field. But to hear his coaches talk — and talk is cheap this time of year in the NFL, particularly with this franchise — Van Noy is seeing things more clearly now, trusting his eyes as he tries to earn their trust.

That offseason ultimatum certainly seems to have registered.

“When he came back, he was in better shape than he’s ever been,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “Body-fat percentage, strength levels, all of those kinds of things. During our time off, he didn’t take time off, it appears. Looking at his numbers, he went right to work. And I think you can see a difference out there, that he’s moving around extremely well. He’s playing the position a lot better. He’s making good progress.”

Time — and competition, either from a vet like Josh Bynes or a rookie like Antwione Williams — will tell where that leads Van Noy.

But as new general manager Bob Quinn noted this offseason, when asked about Eric Ebron, the first-round lightning rod for that 2014 draft class, “Really by Year 3, you know what you have.”

And in either case, what they hope they have is what they’re starting to see.