“Sheppard spent almost no time with Rodriguez, who appeared to answer all of his questions correctly and quickly gain Sheppard’s trust,” I wrote.
Well, it turns out that was not me projecting anything hopeful about the former Oklahoma State linebacker. In his short month with the rookie linebacker, Sheppard has come away extremely impressed with the mental fortitude of Rodriguez.
“Malcolm Rodriguez is one of the smarter young players I’ve ever been around,” Sheppard told Detroit Lions beat reporter Tim Twentyman on the Twentyman in the Huddle podcast. “That kid, it’s because he’s a naturally smart player, but on top of that, it’s the work he puts in. This kid came in here in two days and he knew both (linebacker) spots.”
That kind of smarts and work ethic should come as no surprise to those that have followed Rodriguez’s journey from a former safety to linebacker. In our podcast last week interviewing Oklahoma State beat writer Scott Wright, he talked about how Rodriguez’s competitiveness and intelligence turned him from a player struggling to learn a new position to a tackling machine and leader in college.
“He is a guy that is incredibly loyal and incredibly driven to be as good as he can possibly be,” Wright said.
Of course, nothing is going to be handed to Rodriguez, no matter how impressive he is through organized team activities, which started this week. Though Detroit does not have a clear depth chart going into this week of practices, Rodriguez has some shortcomings that may cause him to begin further down on the depth chart. His size (5-foot-11, 232 pounds) puts him on the lower end of Lions linebackers on the roster, which is saying something considering the team has clearly favored speed over size.
However, Sheppard noted that if Rodriguez continues to show this kind of intelligence and devotion, he’ll get his shot.
“I looked him right in the eye and said, ‘You’re going to get an opportunity, dude,’” Sheppard said. “I said, ‘When you come in and show me things like that, you’re going to get every opportunity imaginable.”
Sheppard even went as far as to say that he used some of Rodriguez’s film from rookie minicamp during OTAs this week to show both the young players and the veterans how these new linebacker positions should look in Detroit’s reformed defense. Not only does that build confidence in Rodriguez for doing the right thing, but it notifies the rest of the team that the competition is on.
“I see hungry players who are freakin’ biting and champing at the bit of that opportunity to go and have a contract-type year, a life-altering year, a Charles Harris-type year,” Sheppard said. “And when you put six, seven, eight hungry dogs in a room, they have no choice but to—the cream is going to rise (to the top).”
The entire interview of Sheppard is absolutely worth your time and could even get you a little hyped about the Lions’ linebacker room, despite it being (on paper) one of the weakest position groups on the team.