O'Hara: Willie Young growing into bigger role on D-line

Posted Jul 29, 2012

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.”