FOXBOROUGH — Kyle Van Noy is quick.
Whether he’s diagnosing a play or answering a question about his play, the veteran linebacker always is quick with a clever response.
During one recent camp practice, Van Noy was being his usual self, bouncing around the defense and wreaking havoc on the offense. Then, he disappeared. Actually, it was just his familiar No. 53 that went missing. Instead, Van Noy was buzzing around in a plain navy blue practice jersey.
Was it some clever ruse by the coaching staff to hide Van Noy and keep the offense guessing? As it turns out, there was a simpler explanation. There was no camouflage conspiracy. It was more like a wardrobe malfunction.
“I’m too good, so the offense holds me and they ripped my other jersey,’’ said Van Noy after practice, flashing the biggest of smiles. “They were trying to stop me and they couldn’t, so they had to rip my jersey and hold [me]. So, I got a no [number] jersey.’’
Van Noy has been a genuine menace over the first two weeks of camp. He is the unofficial leader in pass breakups as he continues to polish his coverage skills and develop into a reliable and versatile three-down player.
Van Noy arrived midway through the 2016 season when the Patriots swung a deal with the Lions to grab a player that they’d kept a close eye on since his time at Brigham Young, where he was an offense’s nightmare — registering 17.5 tackles for loss as a senior.
When he landed in Detroit he was cast in a different role and hounding the quarterback was not on his to-do list. Van Noy has expressed frustration in the past with how he was deployed in Motown. He began his Patriots career playing in subpackages — and recorded a memorable sack of San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick in his debut — but quickly showed he could thrive in an expanded role.
He had a breakout season in 2017, helping a defense that struggled early to surge during the later stages. Van Noy’s intelligence and versatility helped soften the loss of Dont’a Hightower. His play even earned him an in-season contract extension and he finished the campaign with 73 tackles and 5.5 sacks.
“He’s been very durable [and] dependable. He’s a smart football player, he’s versatile,’’ coach Bill Belichick noted last week. “He can do a lot of different things defensively, in the running game, in the passing game, and in the kicking game. So, he’s got a good skillset and is a smart player with experience that can fill a lot of different roles for us. It’s hard to find players like that. He’s been a valuable guy for us.’’
Another area where Van Noy has excelled is leadership. He’s become a sounding board and guiding light for younger players as well as those who join the Patriots in midseason and might find the adjustment difficult.
“Kyle’s done a good job for us. He’s a player that didn’t start his career here but has come in and really has understood the way that we have tried to do things,’’ said Belichick. “He’s embraced it. He’s becoming very much a leader in doing his job and doing it the right way, but also helping other guys, particularly guys that transition onto the team as he did. He has a good perspective for that.’’
Van Noy said he really appreciates his coach’s complimentary words and that he feels blessed to be playing in New England with his teammates and in front of these fans “and hopefully I show that each and every Sunday.’’
Van Noy said helping others is a role he relishes and it was borne out of his earlier NFL experiences when he could have used a hand adjusting to life as a professional and few offered him one.
“When I was a younger guy not many people tried to help me, and I told myself I would always try to help out no matter what, even if they’re going to try and take my job,’’ he said. “I think anytime you can help out and get on the same page, you never know, they could be playing next to you type of deal. So you always want people to be ready, but I think everyone does that here. It’s not just myself, it’s everyone. I was helped when I got here and I feel like I need to return the favor.’’
When asked what’s the most important advice he gives to new players, Van Noy again showed off that trademark quickness.
“Study,’’ he said with a smile.