Following the Bears’ June 1st session of organized team activities, defensive end/linebacker Willie Young spoke with the media and, with his usual jovial personality, made himself clear: “I would like to finish my career up here in Chicago.”
“Absolutely,” Young said. “I would like to be here long term.”
Since its now been established whether or not Young wants to remain in a Bears uniform after he reportedly asked for a trade in early November of 2015, it should now be established just which position he’ll play on defense.
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It’s no secret Young is a natural 4-3 player. The NC State product earned a three year, $9 million contract from the Bears prior to the 2014 NFL season after four disruptive seasons as a 4-3 defensive end with the Detroit Lions. He continued his success in his first season in Chicago by posting a 10 sack season.
Unfortunately, prior to the 2015 season, Young lost his 4-3 scheme and, to make things worse, tore his achilles tendon in his second to last game of the year against his former team, which hampered his transition to now-defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s 3-4 scheme.
That transition included a switch to the outside linebacker position.
While Young’s quick wit with the media last Wednesday showed his non acceptance for the outside linebacker label, though his protests might be for naught as Young might not have a choice.
The 3-4 defensive scheme utilizes larger defensive ends that take up more space and are strong enough to push through double teams. While Young stands tall at 6 foot 4, his 251 pound frame doesn’t match the 290-320 pound norm that most 3-4 down linemen have.
Accepting or not of his new position, Young didn’t shy away from learning from learning coverages and schemes as he collected six and a half sacks when he returned from his achilles injury. Even though Young’s sack count went down from 2015, it was impressive to see the seven-year vet putting up decent numbers (6.5 sacks) while playing in coverage on some passing downs rather than rushing the passer.
However, much to Young’s dismay, becoming a outside linebacker may have also been a boon for him.
According to a December 2015 Comcast Sportsnet Chicago article, Fangio and Young would have playful arguments about which position Young would play, yet Young did agree the position switch has made him a better football player.
“Just understanding what the secondary goes through,” Young said about how playing linebacker made him a better player. “Understanding the coverage on the back side of [the defense] reinforces me when I’m in the rush.”
However, while it may seem like Young needs to commit to one of the two positions, the honest truth is he could have the best of both worlds. If Fangio approves, Young could hold on to his defensive end position and become a hybrid DE/OLB, just like Denver’s DeMarcus Ware, who’s had an outstanding career with Dallas and Denver as a hybrid defender.
With a year of the 3-4 under his belt, it’s not out of the question for Young to have a breakout season. Only time will tell what Young does, but it’s clear he has a few options going into training camp 2016.