Bears take note of outside linebacker Willie Young’s steady improvement
As a rookie with the Lions in 2010, Willie Young sat in the defensive line meeting room and wondered what was going on when he saw longtime veterans like Kyle Vanden Bosch and Corey Williams diligently taking notes.
In Young's notebook was the date, that week's opponent and "a few doodles."
"I have never seen a guy commit himself in terms of the meeting room and the notes he is taking," outside linebackers coach Clint Hurtt said. "He's taking notes the night before the game, just constantly writing stuff down."
He went from playing half the snaps in the preseason finale, an exercise generally reserved for players on the bubble or ones about to be released, to being the team's most consistent pass rusher since Pernell McPhee was hobbled with a left knee injury six weeks ago.
Young has 5 1/2 sacks and one in four consecutive games for the first time in his career. He's tied with McPhee for the team lead with 18 quarterback pressures. It seems a blessing the Bears didn't trade Young earlier in the year when general manager Ryan Pace was shopping a variety of players. All of a sudden it appears Young, 29, could be a part of the team's future and he's a bargain for next season when he's owed $2.5 million in the final year of a $9 million, three-year contract he got from former GM Phil Emery.
And he's not just getting after the quarterback. Young had three tackles for loss or no gain in Sunday's loss to the Redskins, once powering through three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams to stuff Matt Jones for a 4-yard loss.
"He is playing much better as the season wears on, and he's getting better and better," defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "It has been a little bit each and every week. There hasn't been that one jump. It has been a gradual process for him."
Young was a healthy scratch in Week 3 at Seattle and logged only seven snaps in the first Vikings game Nov. 1. Since then his playing time has been steady and now he has been on the field for 48.2 percent of the plays for the season. With Jared Allen traded and McPhee ailing (he wore a brace on his left knee in Wednesday's practice), it has been a boost for the defense to get production from Young and Lamarr Houston, who has tied his previous career best with six sacks.
Young gets to play his familiar defensive end position in the nickel scheme but is playing in space at times in the sub package and in the base defense. He intercepted Nick Foles in the victory at St. Louis, dropping into a passing lane.
After a breakout 10-sack season a year ago, Young has provided excellent value and the defense can't have too many pass rushers even if he still identifies as a defensive end. Reality is that learning a new position has made him a better overall player giving him a better understanding of the entire defense and what the secondary is doing as well as the offense with a focus on formation recognition.
"(Fangio and I) have a solid argument every day that I come into work about me being a defensive end or … that other thing," Young said.
"Right, well, whatever," Fangio said. "I don't care if he says that. I'm sure he's just having fun with you guys. He's doing what we ask him to do. It's no issue."
Said Hurtt: "He's an outside linebacker and you tell him I said that."
Young chuckled when informed. Sure, if given a choice he would prefer a 4-3 defensive front but he's enjoying the challenges in front of him and he's playing well again. That's good enough for the Bears to make him a part of the future. If Young closes strong in the final three games, it's worth wondering if he will present a case to the team that he has outplayed his contract.
"I don't know," he said. "I haven't really gotten to that part of it yet. I have so much stuff to do and worry about with this 3-4 I don't have time to sit down and think about anything other than when I am going to find a little window to go fishing."comments powered by Disqus