They seemed right on the mark when Young had an impressive training camp and a preseason that featured him sacking quarterbacks, intercepting passes and blocking punts. It looked like the Lions were on to something.
Then defensive end
“Willie wasn’t a starter but he played all preseason and offseason as a starter because Cliff (Avril) wasn’t here,” Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said. “So when you get into that rhythm and then all the sudden you basically get demoted, and get maybe a quarter of the snaps you were having, it kind of throws you off rhythm.”
Young took the demotion as a professional and didn’t sulk or start begging for more reps, but he wasn’t performing in his limited role, either. He had just one tackle through the team’s first four games and was averaging about 18 snaps per game. Far from superstar numbers.
That’s when a frustrated Young had a long conversation with Cunningham the week prior to their game at Philadelphia.
“I think he could tell that I was a little frustrated with the snap counts,” Young said of the conversation. “I told him that I wasn’t looking for 30 snaps a game, I just wanted good quality snaps.
“He said he trusted in me that I could go in and do my job. He recognized my frustration and everything was positive. I learned from that conversation that before you start thinking and second guessing yourself, go up and speak with the guy who’s calling the shots.”
During the conversation, Cunningham told Young that he wanted the preseason Willie Young back. The one that didn’t worry about anything and just played football.
Young responded with a good game in Philadelphia where he set the edge on a number of plays and forced runners inside to be cleaned up by teammates. He did the same Monday at Chicago, and recorded a tackle.
Young has played 27 and 26 snaps, respectively, the last two weeks and is admittedly playing his best football of the regular season.
He said Cunningham has been on him every step of the way, too, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The only thing I said before I left that meeting was not to back off of me,” he said. “Don’t take the foot off the gas on me. If I don’t come off the ball one of 10 snaps or a step slow, let me know. Jump on me and let me know. That helps me.”
DELMAS TO PICK UP SLACK
“I go out there and get myself hyped and get my teammates hyped and I don’t know what I’m doing until someone actually put a tape recorder on myself and let me listen," he said. "That’s when I realize there’s a maniac out there trying to get the team right.”
“Not only was Nate that guy for the offense but he was that for the whole team,” Delmas said. “When we huddled up together he was the one that broke it down and gave the speech. We feel it right now.
“I felt like I could slack a little bit because I had a soldier like that to come in and step up and say what he had to say. But now somebody has to step up to the plate and I think that’ll be me.”
Lions head coach Jim Schwartz announced today that Burleson had successful surgery to repair a broken right leg Friday morning but gave no other update.