07/29/12Author: Mike O'Hara - DetroitLions.com
Willie Young growing into bigger role on D-line
There is more to Willie Young than meets the eye of the casual observer. What stands out at first glance is how much Young has developed his upper body since the end of last season. His shoulders, chest and upper arms are noticeably bigger as a result of his offseason weight-training program. During the Lions’ training-camp practice Saturday, in which players did not wear pads, somebody remarked that Young looked like he was the only player on the field who was wearing shoulder pads.
“I’ve never heard that one before,” Young said, when someone relayed the remark to him.
He took it as a compliment, but reacted as though the remark about his upper-body development included a slight against the rest of his physique.
“You must not have seen my legs,” Young said. “Have you seen my legs?”
He insisted that they’re bigger “above the knee.”
Below the knees, he still has the same relative pipe-cleaners. But that’s common to pass-rushers these days.
At 6-5 and 260 pounds – nine pounds more than he weighed when he came to the Lions as a seventh-round draft pick out of North Carolina State two years ago -- Young fits the physical mold of the modern-era defensive end. He has long arms and explosive ability, as shown by a 38-inch vertical jump at the NFL Combine workouts in 2010.
He worked hard in the offseason to be more effective and take advantage of the chance for more playing time.
Young worked to prepare himself to get more playing time this year. He felt he needed to add some weight.
“Definitely,” he said. “It helps me a lot more at the point of contact – a lot more solid. Obviously, it plays a role late in the game, late in the season. “A lot of hard work.”
Young also fits the playing profile. He has shown he can get around the corner to pressure the quarterback. Young had three sacks last year, and all came in the fourth in key moments. He helped seal wins over the Cowboys and Bears, and ended a possession by the Packers in their win over the Lions in the final regular-season game.
Most pass-rushers are lean, speed-rush machines, built to get around a pass-blocking offensive tackle to sack the quarterback.
At 260 pounds, Young’s weight is in range with the NFL’s top pass—rushers. Of the 17 players who had 10 or more sacks last season --- a combination of defensive ends and linebackers -- only eight weighed more than 260.
The group’s weight spread was from 237 pounds for Broncos rookie Von Miller to 287 for Julius Peppers of the Bears.
Also in that group was Cliff Avril, who has not reported to camp. Avril became a free agent in the offseason, but he and the Lions were unable to agree on a long-term contract.
The Lions put the franchise tag on Avril, guaranteeing him a one-year contract worth $10.6 million, but Avril has not signed the tender. Technically, Avril is not under contract and cannot be fined for missing camp.
There is little doubt that Avril eventually will sign the tender and report in time for the start of the regular season. He has said he has 10.6 million reasons – the money – to report. Meanwhile, camp is rolling along – three days and counting – and the Lions are continuing to fine tune a defensive line that they expect to be one of the NFL’s best.
They have four returning ends from last year – Kyle Vanden Bosch, Lawrence Jackson, Young and Avril – along with Andre Fluellen, who plays tackle and end.
The Lions’ sack totals of the last two seasons are almost even – 44 sacks in 2010 and 41 last year – but last year’s rush wasn’t nearly as effective on a consistent basis.
Avril held up his end – at left end – with a team-high 11 sacks.
The Lions’ front four has a lot of rotating parts, and Young is one of them. He should be an important role player this year, based on how his game has improved in his first two seasons as a Lion.
Young has developed physically and in his mental approach to the game.
Coach Jim Schwartz has said that Young wasn’t ready for the pro game in his first season.
“I think it was his rookie year,” Schwartz said. “He still hadn’t really become a pro yet. Some guys take to it a little quicker. He had some maturing to do.
“Physically, he did, but also, emotionally, mentally – whatever. But he did. He made a big jump last year. It appears as if he’s made another similar jump.”
Training Camp Note 7-29-12
Lions D-line finds extra gear in workout: While it's often difficult to gauge the progress of the offensive and defensive lines until teams practice in full pads, Detroit's D-line stepped up its intensity in Sunday's workout. DE Kyle Vanden Bosch stripped WR Nate Burleson to force his first fumble of camp. Despite concerns over Vanden Bosch's age and health, he remains one of the hardest workers on the defensive side of the ball. That work ethic hasn't been lost on DEs Willie Young and Lawrence Jackson, who are taking advantage of the first-team reps they're splitting while Cliff Avril continues his holdout. Both players are moving well off the line, and surely would have sacks to their credit if contact with the quarterback were allowed. The starting DE job opposite Vanden Bosh still belongs to Avril when he returns, but Young and Jackson's efforts indicate the Lions should enter the season with outstanding D-line depth.
CB Jacob Lacey shines in first team role: The hotly-contested competition to start opposite Chris Houston at cornerback took a turn Sunday when free-agent signing Jacob Lacey replaced Alphonso Smith in the first-team role. Jacob Lacey took advantage of the change in the depth chart, making an interception in coverage drills in addition to several pass breakups. After an average performance during Detroit's first two open practices, Lacey's effort Sunday rekindled the opinion that he can be a legitimate challenger for a starting CB spot.
LB Whitehead impresses vets: Rookie Tahir Whitehead, who was a virtual unknown to most Lions' fans when Detroit selected him in the fifth round of the 2012 draft, has been one of the most consistent rookie performers early in camp. His ball pursuit in run situations has been impressive enough to earn him second-team reps, although he's often the odd man out in nickel package situations. LB Stephen Tulloch, whose experience in Jim Schwartz' system can serve as a good gauge for evaluating players' effectiveness, says he's impressed by Whitehead's play. “He's explosive, smart, and he doesn't make the same mistakes [twice],” Tulloch said. “Whenever you see a rookie that corrects his mistakes, it's a positive. That's a guy you can trust on the field.”
-- There are only a handful of defensive ends in the NFL who have the first-step speed of Cliff Avril, but Willie Young made you look twice on Sunday when he came off the edge like a rocket for a "sack" during 11-on-11 drills. The third-year pro, who many expect to have a breakout season this year, appeared to time the snap perfectly. The left tackle on the play (I'm sorry, I couldn't see who it was) never had a chance.
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