By Greg Gabriel–
(CBS) In the spring of 2014, the Bears signed former Detroit Lions defensive end Willie Young as an unrestricted free agent. It was perhaps one of the best signings of the Phil Emery regime while it was in control of the Bears.
Young was thought of as an ascending young player who was just about ready to have a breakout season playing in the Bears’ 4-3 one-gap defense. He had been a backup/role player in Detroit, but the skill set was there for him to emerge.
The Bears guessed right as Young had a career year, with 40 total tackles and 10 sacks in 15 games in 2014 before he tore his Achilles tendon. Being that this is only his sixth year in the league, he still has a lot of good football in front of him.
With the Bears having a new coaching staff this season and an entirely different defensive scheme, there have been a number of people questioning whether Young will be part of the team once the final cuts are made.
In defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s 3-4 scheme, Young has to line up as an outside linebacker, something he has never done before. Dropping into coverage is totally foreign to him, and it takes time to learn how to get proper depth with pass drops and be aware while in coverage. Because he’s coming off a serious injury, Young was unable to participate in the offseason program and being brought along slowly in training camp. For those reasons, I’m not sure that the Bears staff even knows what it has in Young.
Still, the name of the game on defense is rushing the passer, and that’s what Young does best. Regardless of whether Young can play on his feet on base downs, he still has value as a pass rusher when the Bears are in their nickel package. With offensive formations the way they are, the Bears could be in a nickel or dime package upward of 65 to 70 percent of the time on defense. As such, Young would most likely be playing down as a pass rusher in those type of packages.
While we haven’t seen the Bears in their gameday sub packages, I could easily see situations where the Bears would line up Lamarr Houston and Pernell McPhee inside and Jared Allen and Willie Young outside in pass rush situations. This could very well give the Bears their best pass rushing group that would be able to provide pressure from both the inside and outside.
Last year when McPhee was with Baltimore, he would often line up as a defensive tackle in pass rush situations, and he’s a strong inside pass rusher. Houston has also had success when lined up inside on passing downs in the past.
So will Willie Young make the Bears team in 2015? My guess is yes. Edge pass rushers are hard to find in the NFL, and when you have one, you can’t get rid of him.
Greg Gabriel is a former NFL talent evaluator who is an on-air contributor for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @greggabe.