Green Bay Packers edge rusher and first-round pick Lukas Van Ness has made progress this season, but he still has a way to go in his development as he continues to learn and perfect the nuances that come with playing this position.
“Is Lukas coming along? Absolutely he is,” said OLB coach Jason Rebrovich on Wednesday.
From a snap count standpoint, Van Ness has been the fourth man in the Packers regular four-man edge rusher rotation this season, playing 104 snaps against the run and 100 as a pass rusher. With those pass rush opportunities, there have been flashes, but as is the case for many young players, consistency eludes Van Ness. He has currently logged seven pressures, including one sack through nine games, and ranks 82nd out of 112 eligible edge rushers in PFF’s pass-rush win rate metric.
“Like we said from day one,” added Rebrovich, “he’s a freak of a nature kid. He comes in here and works everyday. He wants to work. He wants to get better. So all of those things are taking the right steps. He has the right mentality. The process of things, he’s developing through his first year in the NFL for longevity of time. It’s coming through this process that he’s continuing to get better.”
Van Ness has seen the majority of his playing time come on early downs this season. He’s progressed as a run defender as the year has gone on and is currently ranked 44th out of 108 edge rushers in run stop rate. However, the decision to play him more so on first and second downs also has to do with who his running mates are. On those third down, or more obvious passing situations, Preston Smith and Rashan Gary are better equipped to get after the quarterback.
There are a lot of nuances that come with being an edge rusher, beyond just going from point A to point B as quickly and as disruptively as possible. In the grand scheme of it all, Van Ness is still relatively new to this position, beginning his career at Iowa as a interior defensive lineman and playing fewer than 300 collegiate snaps lined up as a true edge rusher.
“The equation is that we feel there are other guys who can rush a little bit more and understand,” Rebrovich said. “Each week, 70 vs. 79, 77 vs. 70. There’s some ideas of how we want to rush these guys. It’s introducing Lukas to understanding how to rush these guys from week to week to week.
“That’s what we have to do as coaches, develop that throughout the week so he can understand, yep, I’ve got to work this move on this side at third-and-seven versus third-and-four. I’ve got to work this move on this side as opposed to third-and-six versus third-and-15. There’s all those little intricacies that go into it that has that process to understand.”
With his size, speed, and athleticism, Van Ness has disruptive traits that give him a high-floor as a player. However, right now it’s about marrying those abilities with the learned nuances of playing the position, and Green Bay’s defensive scheme. The Packers have dialed up a lot of stunts for Van Ness – nearly 50 percent of his pass rush attempts – to help give him a free run at the quarterback. But as Ben Fennell summed up well recently, we still haven’t seen that one go-to trait show up consistently. That one element of his game that he can lean on while developing the other aspects.
Part of Van Ness’ continued growth will be having a pass rush plan of attack on each rep, along with developing that secondary pass rush move, so when the speed or power rush doesn’t work, he can counter the offensive tackle so that he isn’t immediately eliminated from the play.
This was a draft pick – in a way similar to the Rashan Gary selection in 2019 – that the Packers knew would take time to develop. Van Ness is still a young player and one that is still relatively inexperienced at his position. Van Ness has made strides this season, but there is still plenty of room to grow. He has the physical tools and capability, now it’s about putting all of those pieces together with the other aspects of playing edge rusher and continuing to build over the Packers final eight games.
“The kid came in,” said Rebrovich, “and we all know the numbers he ran, he’s a freak of nature, for lack of a better way to say. But luckily for us he’s on our team. Another work ethic guy. You want to talk about effort? That’s what turned this guy into, and hopefully continue to grow into that next step, that next level that we are all striving for.”
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Title: Packers OLB Lukas Van Ness making strides but room for growth with nuances of position