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'Freak of nature' Lukas Van Ness finding his place in Packers' pass-rush rotation

Rookie first-round pick ready to build on promising start


GREEN BAY – Jason Rebrovich had a good feeling about the playmaking prospect his room was acquiring after the Packers drafted Lukas Van Ness at No. 13 overall this past April.

A quick look at the numbers from the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine illustrates just how high the former Iowa standout's athletic ceiling runs: 4.58-second time in the 40, 4.32 in the short shuttle and 7.02 in the three-cone drill.

All of that from a 6-foot-5, 272-pound pass rusher who'll play his entire NFL rookie season at just 22 years old. The sample size has been small but encouraging for Van Ness, who recorded his first sack on his ninth NFL snap against Chicago in Week 1.

"He's a freak of nature, lack of a better way of saying it," said Rebrovich, Green Bay's pass-rush specialist on the coaching staff. "Luckily for us, he's on our team.

"Does he have things to work on? Absolutely. I have things to work on. (But) to have a young man in his first NFL game have a sack, that doesn't happen every day. It's hard to do. Good for him. Good for us."

Van Ness has had no problem fitting in with a stacked room of Packers outside linebackers led by nine-year veteran Preston Smith and former first-round pick Rashan Gary.

In that 38-20 win over Chicago, Van Ness became the first Packers rookie defensive lineman/edge rusher to register a Week 1 sack in 28 years when he chased down Bears quarterback Justin Fields.

He was in midst of a strong encore performance on Sunday in Atlanta, dropping Falcons running back Tyler Allgeier for a 1-yard loss in the second quarter, before eventually leaving with an elbow injury after 18 snaps.

The rookie appears to have avoided serious injury, though, as Van Ness was back on the practice field Wednesday. Wearing a sleeve over his right elbow, Van Ness said he should be fine after undergoing further tests on the elbow earlier in the week.

"Of course, it's always a relief," Van Ness said. "I just got it bruised in there a little bit. Again taking it day by day but should be good to go."

Van Ness is one of several members of the Packers' 2023 NFL Draft class who has been thrown into the fire as a rookie and he's responded with four tackles (two for a loss) and a sack on 53 defensive snaps through Green Bay's first two games.

Rebrovich says he's seen a difference in the young pass rusher over the past five months and believes his early sack of Fields is something that can help Van Ness continue to grow his confidence and his game.

The early production is appreciated, as Gary is still working his way back to full-go after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament last November in Detroit.

With Gary currently on a snap count, Green Bay has balanced its edge-rushing rotation among Preston Smith (93 snaps), Kingsley Enagbare (81), Van Ness, Justin Hollins (51) and Gary (34).

There are a few plays Van Ness would like to have back among those 53 snaps, but overall, the rookie has flashed the speed and power that led to the Packers making him the highest defensive player to be drafted out of Iowa since Tom Knight in 1997.

"I feel like personally I've left a lot on the bone but I'm excited about some of the things I've been able to put out there," Van Ness said. "Moving forward, week-to-week here, we have a good one coming up Sunday and I've got to continue to produce and help this defense as much as I can."

The Packers are set to open Lambeau Field this Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, who have transitioned to veteran Derek Carr under center. The Saints have been impressive during their 2-0 start but not infallible. Carr has been sacked four times in each victory.

Meanwhile, Green Bay's defense is looking to get back on track after conceding 446 yards to the Falcons during a 25-24 road defeat in which Atlanta scored 13 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.

"We feel we have a good opportunity this week," Van Ness said. "Every single week, we harp on just being our own defense – going out there, doing the right things, and we truly believe we can be the best defense in the league if we do that. We got another task and another challenge this weekend and I'm excited to see how we do."