A couple weeks ago, Detroit Lions linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard had some pretty incredible praise for sixth-round rookie linebacker 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, it’s the work he puts in. This kid came in here in two days and he knew both (linebacker) spots.”
With the Lions’ offseason activities coming to a close now, Sheppard reflected on what Rodriguez has been able to accomplish due to his innate ability to understand the game on the level of an NFL veteran.
“There’s things I can do with Malcolm that you might have to scale back on a third-year player, to be honest,” Sheppard said.
One of those things includes having green-dot potential. The “green dot” refers to the one helmet on defense (with a green sticker on it) that has a radio connection to the coaches on the sidelines. That allows them to receive play calls and then communicate to the rest of the defense. While in the past, the green dot has been traditionally given to the team’s middle linebacker, the Lions will operate by giving it to whoever they deem as the best communicator among their three-down linebackers, regardless of whether they’re playing the MIKE (middle) linebacker position or playing the WILL (weak-side) position—the position Rodriguez is currently occupying.
“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 dot type of linebacker, a guy that has the capabilities to take control of the defense.”
The mental side of the game is only part of the equation, though. Rodriguez comes to the NFL with some size limitations that could challenge his ability to actually execute on the field. His 30-inch arms are well below the NFL average, although his understanding of leverage from his wrestling background has certainly helped him there.
Regardless, Rodriguez still has plenty of work ahead of him before truly being in the green-dot conversation. He has mostly been repping 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-task in my room, but that doesn’t designate him the starter,” Sheppard said. “The things that we did last year are not acceptable for the standard that’s been set this year, so don’t tell me about what a guy did last year; I don’t want to hear it, especially from my room’s concern. Now, he does have the most time-on-task, so he’ll get the nod at first, but that doesn’t mean it’s his spot. If the next guy’s doing it and doing it at a higher level, he understands just like the other eight, nine guys in the room, that guy will be the guy on the field Week 1.”