Lions free-agent defensive end Willie Young was visiting with the Jaguars in Jacksonville on Wednesday when he got a call from his agent. The Bears wanted him to visit. At that point Young knew, at the very least, he wouldn’t be signing with the Jags before he left. An avid fisherman, Young thought exchanging casts in the St. John’s River and nearby Atlantic Ocean for Lake Michigan might work into the equation. But there was something else, too.
“I think when you have guys in the past who’ve played here like (Brian) Urlacher, (Julius) Peppers (and now with Lance) Briggs, (Charles) Tillman, it means a lot, and I think I fit right in with that mentality,” Young explained on a conference call Thursday afternoon. “I’m looking forward to a very aggressive defense, and right now there’s nothing to stop us but ourselves.”
“Our thoughts about defensive players is to get the toughest, most aggressive, instinctive players that have a little bit of an old-school mentality, a 'Bear' mentality, and we certainly feel Willie has those attributes,” said Bears general manager Phil Emery. “(It’s) another positive step in improving our roster to the point where we can contend and win a championship.
"This was important for us to get a second defensive lineman, a quality starter, an opportunity for Willie to grow and for us to grow with him. When we went into free agency we thought if we could find a way to get two starting defensive linemen, we would’ve made forward progress.”
While Young wound up with just three sacks last season playing on one of the NFL’s more talented defensive lines, his 48 quarterback hurries ranked third among defensive ends, according to Pro Football Focus. Channeling his inner Jerry Krause, Emery — who originally got to know Young coming out of North Carolina State (where he also crossed paths with Marc Trestman) — noted Young’s 35-inch arms allow him to gain separation and leverage. He took 550 snaps on the left side last season, 130 on the right and occasionally dropped into coverage. Now he’ll be doing that for Mel Tucker (whom he hadn’t spoken with before his Q&A with reporters) and twice a season against the team he suited up for the past four years.
“I’m very thankful. I guess the only thing is, I know where Detroit is located, but things change – new staff, new everything on that side of town. I’m aware of the situation I’m in and what’s at stake.”
Young’s first starting opportunity came last season following the departure of Cliff Avril in free agency and the retirement of Kyle VandenBoesch. One of his “moments” against the Bears came on a roughing the passer call on a Bears' game-tying two-point conversion attempt at Soldier Field. The Bears then failed on that second opportunity, securing a season sweep for the Lions, who appeared in the driver’s seat in the NFC North after that game only to collapse and make a change at head coach. Now, he wants to accomplish bigger and better things with new teammate Lamarr Houston.
“(Houston’s) a very aggressive guy," Young said. "I would say there’s a resemblance as far as our mentality: hard-nosed, not afraid to stick his nose in the run game and knows how to get after the passer.”
If Young and Houston help provide that for the Bears this fall, it will be a big part of the defense’s much-needed repairs.