Lions DE Willie Young, a third-year pro from North Carolina State, has emerged as a solid rush threat off the bench for Detroit. Young, who notched three sacks a season ago, has had a strong preseason, and he looks to have a regular role in the defense in 2012.
Young has become a player to watch in games because he has started to do the right things when only a select few eyes are upon him.
In a recent interview with PFW, Young said he didn’t know how to prepare the way the coaching staff wanted him to earlier in his career.
“The only way you can gain the coaches’ trust at this level is in practice,” he said. “They’re not going to throw you out there and hope that you do the right thing, hope that you’re where you’re supposed to be at, you know.”
Young, who turns 27 on Sept. 19, took some time to learn how to become a pro, defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said.
“He was very immature, didn’t handle things well, but we saw the talent,” Cunningham told reporters leading up to Detroit’s third preseason game at Oakland.
The 6-5, 251-pound Young can challenge offensive tackles in numerous ways. He has good speed, and as a reserve, he figures to usually be fresh.
However, he believes his length is his greatest asset.
"That sets up a lot of stuff for me," he said.
He believes his length was one of the reasons the Lions took a chance on him in the seventh round in the 2010 draft.
"They felt I had some attributes that would fit the scheme well," Young said. His length, Young said, "allows me to make moves off of guys and so on. I've learned to take advantage of that."
Young displayed his intriguing skill set in the Lions' first preseason game. Rushing off left end, Young beat Browns ORT Mitchell Schwartz, showing good body lean in the process. Young then used that arm length to his advantage, knocking the ball from Browns QB Colt McCoy for a strip sack.
Sacks go a long way toward determining whether a defensive end is judged to have had a successful season, and Young, who also has an interception this preseason, knows this. However, he also knows the little things are vital as well. He noted the importance of making a running back cut laterally.
“I personally feel like that’s a job well done,” Young said.