Green Bay Packers

The Bears Game Should Show Us How Far Lukas Van Ness Has Come

Photo Credit: William Glasheen-USA TODAY Sports

Hercules may be known as a demigod hero for fighting ferocious animals and monsters. But as a child, Hercules defeated snakes sent by his vengeful stepmother Hera, showing his strength and fearlessness from an early age. In other words, you have to walk before you can run.

It’s a similar story for Green Bay Packers rookie edge rusher Lukas Van Ness, who earned the nickname “Hercules” in college for his incredible physique. “Van Ness is more of a splash player than consistent force on tape,” read the last line of draft analyst Lance Zierlein’s assessment of Van Ness coming out of college, “but he possesses projectable traits that should allow for continued ascension as a pro.”

From that perspective, Van Ness was Green Bay’s type of prospect, an athletic freak with room to grow. In many ways, they took Van Ness because he’s in the Rashan Gary mold. “His size, strength, and motor could make him a plus run defender in short order,” Zierlein concluded in assessing Gary. “He has elite potential if a defensive coordinator can harness the energy and focus his approach.” The Packers drafted Van Ness and Gary knowing they needed to mold them into complete players. In the back half of the season, we’ve seen glimpses of Van Ness ascending into the chiseled Greek god that he has become.

Van Ness has been a rotational pass rusher throughout the season. He played an average of 21 snaps per game, similar to Gary’s 16 snaps per game during his rookie season. Early in the year, the Packers appeared to figure out the best spots to play Van Ness, and Van Ness was trying to hone his pass-rush moves and skillset.

For instance, in the first game against the Chicago Bears, Van Ness showed off his deceptive speed and explosiveness while chasing Justin Fields out of the pocket for an open-field sack. However, for most of that game, Van Ness struggled in his matchup against his fellow rookie first-round pick tackle Darnell Wright. To his credit, Wright did a fantastic job mirroring Van Ness and getting his hands on him early to control his momentum and neutralize any attempt at a pass-rush move.

Interestingly, to start the season, Van Ness played most of his pass rush snaps as a stand-up linebacker. However, he switched to a three-point stance as the season progressed and has made more consistent splash plays as more of a true edge defensive end. Take his Week 18 sack against the Bears. Van Ness has his hand in the ground, gets off well, and plays with better leverage. That allowed him to harness his raw power and push tackle Braxton Jones back into Fields. Most importantly, Van Ness doesn’t try to speed around Jones and opts to bull rush. By doing so, he maintained gap integrity and didn’t allow Fields to escape out of the pocket for a quarterback run.

The benefit of Van Ness is that he can play with speed and power. Playing as a down lineman allows Van Ness to harness better leverage and access that power more easily. His speed can still be an asset to adjust during plays to recover if he finds himself in disadvantageous situations. Take the fake punt the Detroit Lions tried to pull off on Thanksgiving. After a swim move, Van Ness finds himself in the backfield, thinking he’s about to block a punt. Then he realizes it’s a fake and quickly changes direction and chases down the ball carrier to force a turnover on downs.

Van Ness, 22, is still a young player, but he has shown he can win at the NFL level. He’s on the Rashan Gary plan of starting as a rotational player and growing into a full-time role. However, because of his recent growth, the Packers shouldn’t shy away from giving Van Ness important reps along the defensive line against the Dallas Cowboys. It’ll be a tough test against a talented Dallas offensive line featuring All-Pro players Zack Martin and Tyler Smith. For the Packers, keeping all of their defensive linemen fresh and putting them in advantageous situations to get pressure on Dak Prescott early will be a key to victory, and “Hercules” will be a big part of that.

Green Bay Packers
The Packers Need to Trade Up To Avoid Missing Out On First-Round Talent
By Garrison Anderson - Apr 18, 2024
Green Bay Packers
Peter Schrager Mocks Intriguing Outlier Amarius Mims To the Packers
By Matt Hendershott - Apr 18, 2024
Green Bay Packers

Pump the Brakes On the Kenny Clark Trade Rumors

Photo Credit: William Glasheen-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Gutekunst is no stranger to executing big trades, having completed deals that sent Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams, and Rasul Douglas out of town in the past […]

Continue Reading