Mayhew: Willie Young has been outstanding this offseason

Posted Jun 19, 2012

Right at the end of a Q&A session with reporters before a minicamp practice last week, Lions general manager Martin Mayhew was asked if there were any players that had really impressed him this offseason. Three names immediately came to mind for Mayhew – defensive tackle Nick Fairley, running back Jahvid Best and defensive end Willie Young.

Young stands out among that group because he’s the only one that wasn’t a first-round pick. There wasn't a press conference introducing Young and there wasn't much talk about him being a building block of the organization. Young was a seventh-round pick who had to fight just to make the team as a rookie.

Heading into his third season, Young is now considered one of the young building blocks on this team.

“That means a lot and it’s a credit to my progress,” Young said of Mayhew’s comments. “I’m a seventh-round draft pick and I’m trying to make a name for myself. Coming from him, that says a lot.”

Higher expectations usually mean added pressure to perform, but Young said that isn’t the case with him.

“This is the opportunity I’ve been waiting for,” he said. “I’m not the one who’s going to crack under pressure. Just do what I’ve been doing.”

Young has received plenty of reps with the first-team defense this offseason in the absence of Cliff Avril and veteran Kyle Vanden Bosch not doing much in team drills. Listening to Mayhew, Young appears to have made the most of those opportunities.

“Since Willie has been drafted here he’s shown flashes and everybody’s had high expectations for him,” Vanden Bosch said. “Now, the way he’s performed this offseason, it’s not hope anymore. You expect him to go put there and be a good player and do some good things for us.”

Young made three impactful sacks last year, none bigger than the one at Dallas Week 4. With 0:35 left in the game, Young got to Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo to help preserve a Lions come-from-behind victory.

Young is down almost 10 pounds from last year and has shown a terrific burst coming off the edge this offseason. He's deceivingly fast with long strides and a 6-foot-5 frame, and has great strength. It seemed like he was in the backfield all the time throughout OTAs and the mandatory mini-camp.

“I’m just a lot more knowledgeable,” Young said of his game earlier this offseason. “I think the older guys have played a big role as far as keeping me ready. There are so many tricks to the trade in this game and you really need the older guys to help get you going and expose you to the stuff you need to be aware of.”

It’s the emergence of Young and fellow backup defensive end Lawrence Jackson that are allowing the Lions not to panic in the long-term contract negotiations with Avril. If Young and Jackson are as good as the Lions think they can be, they give the team options.