In football, you’ll often see players transitioning to different positions as a means to better utilize their skillsets. Sometimes this can be seen as a negative, as if they’re not quite up to par with the position they’re playing. But in many cases, it could be due to a young player’s athletic abilities making him a much bigger threat at that new position. For the Green Bay Packers this year, they are working on transitioning their first-round pick, Lukas Van Ness, from Defensive End to Outside Linebacker.

Since the Packers switched from the 4-3 defensive scheme to a 3-4 in 2009, we’ve seen quite a few players make the transition. Some have been successful, while others haven’t. Right off the bat in 2009 there was an effort to transition standout Defensive End Aaron Kampman to an Outside Linebacker. Kampman had a little success with it, but injury derailed his 2009 season, and he left the Packers to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars moving back to Defensive End. Two other notable transitions have been Julius Peppers and Nick Perry. Peppers found success after spending the majority of his career at DE, and Nick Perry had some spurts of success, but an injury bug more or less derailed his career.

Probably the most notable right now, is Rashan Gary. Gary spent his entire college career with his hand in the dirt, and actually didn’t quite put up a huge stat-line. This didn’t stop the Packers from drafting him 12th overall in 2019. They believed in his high motor and freakish athleticism to make the switch, and it has paid off so far. Lukas Van Ness is in a very similar situation to Rashan Gary and hopes he can have the same success.

Van Ness needs to mirror Rashan Gary

Rashan Gary entered the Packers locker room with very little pressure on his shoulders. He had Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith to look up to at his same position. He was noted as being a freakish athlete that may need some time to develop, and having those two to sit behind for a bit was an absolute luxury. Since then, Gary has become a beast at the Outside Linebacker position. Before going down to injury after nine games, Gary had been on pace to make it to 12-13 sacks for the season.

Enter Lukas Van Ness, also a freakish athlete that may need a little time to develop. Van Ness also now has Rashan Gary and Preston Smith to look up to. He could see some more time on the field this year however, due to Rashan Gary’s injury recovery. Van Ness also has Kingsley Enagbare to help him along after Enagbare stood out last year.

Lukas Van Ness was nicknamed Hercules for a reason. He is a dominating human being. If he can use those physical gifts and the small chip on his shoulder, he will take off. It’s worked for Rashan Gary so far. So, Van Ness needs to mirror Gary as much as possible and learn from him what has gotten him to be the Packers top OLB.

Hockey Builds a Better Football Player

Van Ness also played hockey growing up which he says is a credit to his motor and physicality. His stickhandling with the puck, trying to make plays and passes to teammates down the ice he says contributed to using his vision on the field and trust what he sees. He is a Chicago Blackhawks fan though, so I might have to educate him about the Wisconsin connection with the Milwaukee Admirals and Nashville Predators. Maybe get him to a game or two during the season and start a conversion.

How have OTA’s been for Van Ness?

While yes, OTA’s are without pads and some successes should be taken with a grain of salt, Lukas Van Ness has shown some spurts already.

He’s shown some play-making ability early in both the run defense, and the pass rush. One notable play came off a play-action when Van Ness was matched up against starting RT candidate Yosh Nijman. At first Van Ness played run and went to set the edge. But he then made a cut move inside of Nijman to get into the backfield to rush the QB. There were several other rushes on Yosh Nijman where Van Ness reached into his tool-bag of moves to become a fixture in the backfield.

As previously mentioned, Van Ness has been insuring he sets the edge in rushing situations. He also has created some good run-stopping abilities including a stop for no-gain against Aaron Jones. Van Ness was able to hold his own against Royce Newman and quickly get off the block to stop Jones right at the line of scrimmage.

To become a great defensive player, you need to trust your instincts and go for it. If you second guess yourself in the NFL, the ball might already be passed you. It’s best to act on that first instinct.

If Lukas Van Ness keeps up his current success heading into Training Camp and then into the regular season, I think we could be looking at the next great Packers pass-rusher taking their first steps onto Lambeau Field this year.

Greg Meinholz is a lifelong devoted Packer fan. A contributor to PackersTalk as well as CheeseheadTV. Follow him on Twitter at @gmeinholz. for Packers commentary, random humor, beer endorsements, and occasional Star Wars and Marvel ramblings.