Lions' Van Noy gets new number, fresh start

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Dearborn — Kyle Van Noy heard plenty of chatter about his football skills in 2014.

After the Lions drafted him in the second round, it was a lot of praise as many people expected the outside linebacker to provide some pass rushing punch as a rookie. After an injury cost him half of the season, it was more negative because he didn't flash much of his potential during his limited playing time on defense.

Looking ahead to 2015, Van Noy wants a clean slate and even considered the need for a fresh start when he changed from No. 95 to 53.

"It's a brand new start, new number," he said Friday at Stephen Tulloch's charity softball game. "I hope the coaches kind of don't judge me from last year, or the players, because that wasn't me."

Van Noy finished his rookie year with just six tackles in eight games, playing some special teams and occasionally on defense after core muscle surgery in August landed him on injured reserve with designation to return. His injury flared up in organized team activities last June, stunting his adjustment to the NFL shortly after it began.

The 6-foot-3, 252-pound Van Noy came to Detroit after some exceptional play at BYU, including 26 sacks, 62 tackles for loss and seven interceptions in his career. General manager Martin Mayhew even pegged him as the starting strong-side linebacker shortly after the draft.

Van Noy faces even tougher competition to become a starter this year. With him dealing with the injury in training camp, Tahir Whitehead won that job last year, and considering Whitehead hadn't played defense his first two NFL seasons, he's better equipped to maintain the job with his 2014 experience.

Even if Whitehead wins the job, the Lions will find ways to put Van Noy on the field because of his versatile skill set. He spent significant time training with the defensive ends last year and can rush from different positions. He also showed good coverage skills in college and has good speed for someone his size.

Van Noy understands there will always be critics, but he said his expectations for himself are higher than anyone else's, which made last season so frustrating.

"It's unfortunate, but all I can do is stay positive and keep going forward," he said. "I'm here for four years (with my rookie contract), so judge me after my four years are done."

Changing numbers rarely has much significance, but it does for Van Noy, who was upset about his assignment of No. 95 last year and is now No. 53. Now, though, he hopes to go through the offseason and training camp healthy and looking like a completely different player.

"For me, I just wanted a whole new slate, a whole clean look and just I'm a linebacker number now," he said. "You know, 95, you can consider that one; I don't. But I just feel part of the linebacker corps now."