A few weeks ago, Detroit Lions linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard gave some pretty incredible praise for sixth-round rookie linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez.
“Malcolm Rodriguez is one of the smartest young players I’ve ever been around,” Sheppard told Detroit Lions reporter Tim Twentyman. “This kid, it’s because he’s a naturally smart player, but on top of that, it’s the job he does. This kid got here in two days and he knew both spots (of linebacker). “
As the Lions’ offseason activities draw to a close, Sheppard reflected on what Rodriguez was able to accomplish with his innate ability to understand the game at the level of an NFL veteran.
“There are things I can do with Malcolm that you might have to narrow down to a third-year player, to be honest,” Sheppard said.
One of those things includes the potential of the green dot. The “green dot” refers to the only helmet on defense (with a green sticker on it) that has a radio connection to the coaches on the sidelines. This allows them to receive play calls and then communicate with the rest of the defense. While in the past the green dot was traditionally awarded to the team’s middle linebacker, the Lions will operate by giving it to whoever they consider to be the best communicator among their three linebackers, whether or not they play the MIKE ( middle) linebacker position or playing the WILL position (weak side) – the position Rodriguez currently occupies.
“If you show me you have the communication skills and the mental capacity to handle it, you’re going to wear the green dot,” Sheppard explained. “And (Rodriguez) is definitely a green-point type linebacker, a guy who has the ability to take over the defense.”
The mental side of the game, however, is only part of the equation. Rodriguez comes to the NFL with height limitations that could challenge his ability to actually perform on the field. His 30-inch arms are well below NFL average, though his understanding of leverage from his wrestling background certainly helped him there.
Either way, Rodriguez still has a lot of work ahead of him before he really gets into the green dot conversation. He mostly played with the third team during offseason activities. That said, Sheppard admitted that no spot on the roster is currently decided, even that of veteran linebacker Alex Anzalone.
“(Anzalone) has the most time on the task in my room, but that doesn’t mark him as a starter,” Sheppard said. “The things we did last year aren’t acceptable for the standard that’s been set this year, so don’t talk to me about what a guy did last year; I don’t want to hear it, especially from the worry of my room. Now he has the most time on the task, so he’ll get the green light early, but that doesn’t mean it’s his place. If the next guy does it and does it at a higher level, he understands just like the other eight, nine guys in the room, that guy will be the guy in the field in Week 1.”