08/16/12Author: Anwar S. Richardson - MLive
Willie Young and Lawrence Jackson have stood out for the Detroit Lions
ALLEN PARK -- Detroit Lions defensive ends Willie Young and Lawrence Jackson were given tremendous opportunities this offseason.
Lions defensive end Cliff Avril received the team's franchise tag, and refused to sign that tender. Kyle Vanden Bosch has fought through a knee injury and been sidelined from participating in several practices.
That meant Young and Jackson received plenty of playing time during the absence of Detroit's starting defensive linemen.
Both hope to show how far they have progressed when the Detroit Lions face the Baltimore Ravens on Friday.
"They both had outstanding OTAs (organized team activities)," Lions defensive line coach Kris Kocurek said. "Cliff and Kyle weren't there, and Willie and L.J. took all the first-team reps throughout OTAs. With Cliff back, they're rolling in with the first group. They've been outstanding. They're both hard workers.
"It's just a matter of staying consistent in what they're doing. Not drifting backwards. They're getting better every day. They're both having outstanding camps. You think about both those players, and you feel confident as a coach when they go in the game, they're going in the game to make a play. We're not just sticking them in there to eat up a couple of reps to give a guy a breather on the sidelines. We're sticking Willie and L.J. in the game to make a play, make a sack, make something happen, and we count on them to do that."
Young had one sack, a forced fumble, and a quarterback hurry during Detroit's preseason loss against the Cleveland Browns.
Football analytics website Pro Football Focus calculated that Young got pressure on opposing quarterbacks one out of every six snaps he played, better than nearly every 4-3 defensive end in the NFL, last season.
Jackson has been one of the most efficient players for the Detroit Lions since being acquired from the Seattle Seahawks for a sixth-round pick two years ago.
Despite playing fewer than half the snaps of starters Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch during that stretch, Jackson has accumulated 10.5 sacks, and has been the team's most effective defensive lineman against the run, according to NFL analytics site Pro Football Focus.
"It's been a learning curve for both of them," Kocurek said. "Willie came from N.C. State and was kind of a standout, outside backer, and they let him do what he wanted to do. It took Willie a year in the system before he really started seeing the production as far as pass rush goes. L.J. played in Seattle for three or four years, and they had him playing head-up on a tight end, with a wide bass, and everything was reading and reacting, but we're attack first and react second. It took L.J. about eight games into this first year to really start coming on, and then he had 6½ sacks in eight games his first year.
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"Willie's first year was like a redshirt year his rookie year. He got a lot of reps with the young guys. Last year, we got him in the mix, and he was productive when he was in there. Both of them got injured in the same game, Chicago, the 12th week of the season. Neither one of them was the same down the stretch. It's just a progression in the scheme. They've gotten better since day one, but they haven't been an overnight success. It's been hard work on both their parts to understand exactly what we need them to do within the scheme."