By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Kyle Van Noy has already assumed a large portion of the middle linebacker workload on the Patriots. Now, with Dont’a Hightower out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle, he will need to be the defensive signal-caller full-time.
Van Noy proved in last Sunday’s win over the Falcons that he was capable of making big plays while manning the middle of the defense, stopping wideout Taylor Gabriel on a fourth-and-1 play at the goal line. He has excelled at times and become a favorite of Bill Belichick, mainly due to his consistency, durability, and knowledge of the defense that he has built over the past calendar year in a Patriots uniform. It’s those qualities that earned the linebacker a two-year extension in September.
When asked about Van Noy’s increased role on Monday, Belichick hinted that he was preparing to lose Hightower at some point in the season and complimented the former Lions linebacker for developing into a reliable full-time defender.
“[Van Noy] saw a lot of time in training camp, as you know, with the time that Dont’a [Hightower] was out, but his role increased throughout the course of the season last year,” said Belichick. “We felt like going into the season that, again, Kyle is a versatile player. He’s able to do a lot of things. He can really play on the end of the line. He can pass rush. He can play in coverage. He can play middle linebacker. He can play outside linebacker. He gives us a lot of flexibility on defense.
“Not that you want a player to have to play five or six different positions but sometimes in your scheme or over the course of the season things can shift a little bit, but we headed into the season thinking that he would certainly have a bigger role than he had last year just because the amount of time that he’s had to familiarize himself with our system and practice it all through the spring and all through training camp.”
Things have shifted big-time now that the Patriots have to play the rest of the season without Hightower, but Van Noy is as prepared as anyone to assume the roles that Hightower left behind in the middle of the field. Belichick may actually have a bigger need to add more of an outside linebacker and improve the pass rush.
Special teams captain Matthew Slater spoke highly of Van Noy when asked on Monday about the work he’s put in to become a bigger part of the defense, comparing him to some Patriots greats at the linebacker position.
“I think he’s done a great job of being a leader this year, and really growing more comfortable in his role,” Slater said of Van Noy. “The thing about Kyle is he’s always been eager since he got here to improve. He’s been eager to earn the trust of his teammates. He’s been eager to do things the right way. He asks a ton of questions about [Jerod] Mayo and [Tedy] Bruschi and [Junior] Seau and those guys that some of us played with. … He’s really grown a lot and it’s exciting to see.”
Losing Hightower is undoubtedly a major blow to a defense that was just starting to turn the corner after a poor start to the season. But with Van Noy emerging as a defensive leader and playing as well as ever since coming to New England, the Patriots may be better prepared to withstand the loss than it seems.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, CBS, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.