By Chris Emma–
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — The continued progress of Willie Young has proved he’s embraced change. He’s succeeded in making the switch from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker for the Bears, with his improvements showing each game.
But there’s one thing Young simply can’t agree on with defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
“I’m a defensive end,” Young said.
Fangio’s response: “Well, whatever.”
The two-point stance of Young would suggest he’s indeed a linebacker — along the with his spot on the depth chart, roster, etc.
All season long, Young has denied the fact that he moved to linebacker. After intercepting a Nick Foles pass in the Bears’ win over the Rams, he was quick to confirm he’s a defensive end.
Young and Fangio go back and forth about the terminology of his role.
“We have a solid argument every day that I come into work about me being a defensive end or that other thing,” Young said.
Of course, Young is only joking, something Fangio acknowledged. But Young just likes to attack the quarterback. He recorded a career-high 10 sacks last season, his first run with the Bears.
Now, Young isn’t fighting for a sack every play. He has to make plays in pass coverage, too.
“I’m certain they know when I’m coming,” Young said of his new role. “I’m usually slobbering at the mouth, nose dripping with blood. They know when I’m coming. They know when I’m not coming, because I’m crying, tears are coming down my face, because I’m not able to rush the quarterback. It’s distinctive when I’m coming and when I’m not.”
Former Bears general manager Phil Emery signed Young prior to the 2014 season, initially seeking depth at defensive end. He was brought in as the third rusher, alongside big-money additions Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston. Like Young, both moved to linebacker — that “other thing” — when Fangio brought the new schemes in.
Young had to learn the 3-4 defense from a new spot while working back from a torn Achilles suffered in Week 16 of last season. Combining a long rehab with uncomfortable change wasn’t easy, but Young embraced it. The man whose trademark sack celebration involves fishing has caught on.
There was no sales job for Fangio to convince Young, who was fine with adapting to the new unit.
“He’s doing what we ask him to do,” Fangio said of Young.
At 6-foot-4, 251 pounds, Young is a terrific athlete, something that’s been revealed in his new job. He’s able to get around a tackle the same way he can drop into coverage and defend a pass.
Young even admitted that playing a new role has made him a better football player.
“I don’t have time to play around,” Young said. “I’ve got to get to where I’ve got to go, because if I’m not there, that ball is coming out fast and I’m not even giving myself a chance to help the team, to help my secondary with the coverage and the rush.”
Young’s work this season has been admirable. He fought through a tough recovery, learned a new job description and is thriving. He’s arguably the Bears’ best defensive player right now.
It’s clear that Young is a fantastic fit at outside linebacker, even if he won’t admit it.