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08/24/12Author: Bob Wojnowski - The Detroit News

Willie Young turning out to be Lions’ prize catch

Willie Young turning out to be Lions’ prize catch

Allen Park -- Competition is a good thing, a motivating thing, a necessary thing. That's true on the football field, at the fishing hole or in a crowded locker room.

"You're in my area again!" Nick Fairley shouted to Willie Young, as reporters spilled from Young's locker into Fairley's space. "I'm gonna start charging you."

"You owe me rent money from last year anyway!" Young fired back playfully, and the point was well-taken. On deep units on good teams, someone always is encroaching on someone else.

Nowhere are the Lions deeper and feistier than on the defensive line. They push the pile on the field, they push each other. Young is pushing harder and harder these days, and over time, the Lions will have to make tough choices at a position of strength.

GM Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz already made one when they placed the franchise tag on defensive end Cliff Avril, which means he gets a healthy $10.6 million but only a one-year deal. Part of the reason the Lions felt they could hold the line, so to speak, is because of young guys like Young and Fairley.

Any of the Lions' top eight defensive linemen probably could start elsewhere. Avril, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Ndamukong Suh and Corey Williams are the starters, but the second group — Young, Fairley, Sammie Hill and Lawrence Jackson — can create fresh havoc.

Young, 26, is steadily working his way from raw to raucous, from a seventh-round pick to a potential playmaker. He's enormously athletic at 6-4, although a bit light at 251 pounds. He had three sacks last season after barely playing his rookie year.

Taking advantage of Avril's absence the first week of camp, Young had a sack and forced fumble against Cleveland. He flashed his leaping ability by blocking a punt in last week's victory over Baltimore. He also flashes his fishing ability as often as possible, heading to his favorite spots around town. When Young clobbered the Bears' Jay Cutler on Monday Night Football last season, he celebrated the sack with an imaginary fly-cast and reel-in.

Getting serious

Young answers most questions with a big smile, an easy-going personality that didn't always fit here. He was projected as a mid-round pick three years ago, but the Lions grabbed him at No. 213 overall.

"It sucks when you know you're better than someone, but I have no idea why I went in the seventh round," Young said Wednesday. "I just had to grow up and get with the program. Not that I never took it seriously, it's just my personality. I laugh and joke with everybody, but I figured out, I had to gain the coaches' trust. To do that, I had to be more professional."

The knocks on Young coming out of North Carolina State were his slender build and his inconsistent aggressiveness. Could he handle the rigors of being an NFL defensive end?

Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham posed that question often when Young first got here.

"I had Willie sitting in a corner several times during walk-throughs because he would screw up," Cunningham said. "He was very immature, didn't handle things well, but we saw the talent. He's grown immensely. I really enjoy talking to him one on one, he asks great questions. He's a force to be reckoned with."

Fierce competition

Young doesn't necessarily play with the chip of an overlooked pick, but he's an insurance chip at defensive end. Vanden Bosch is 33. The Lions obviously wanted to keep Avril but weren't willing to meet his long-term demands, and with talented backups, they could draw that line.

The better the competition, the better the team, the fewer the openings. Ask Young if the competition for contracts and playing time ever messes with his head, and he waves it off.

"You can't look at it like that, but it's obviously in the back of your mind," he said. "I'm a competitor, man. I feel if I can compete against the best in practice, with this defensive line, I got a great chance on Sunday."

Fairley's development at tackle should help Young at right end. The Lions are counting on Fairley, a first-round pick, to stay in shape, stay out of trouble and make an impact. Fairley and Young may have adjacent lockers, but on this line, there's always room for movement.

"This guy here," Young said, pointing at Fairley, "he's freed me up so much, taught me a lot of the big-guy stuff. Like when I'm down inside, I can't be sniffing around. I gotta come correctly every time."

Young loves football and loves to fish, and doesn't mind describing his passion for both. When the Lions hosted Bassmaster champion Kevin VanDam for a charity fishing event in June, Young compared it to playing basketball with Michael Jordan.

Yes, he's that serious about what he casts and what he reels in, from smallmouth bass to largemouth quarterbacks.

From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20120823/OPINION03/208230359#ixzz24U8ErMQD

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