This time a year ago Willie Young was coming off a career season marked by a team-best 10 sacks. But he was also coming off a season-ending achilles injury and into a defensive scheme unlike what he’d played previously in either Detroit or Chicago.
He played his way back into increasingly better health, and eventually finished the season with 6.5 sacks — second only to linebacker Lamarr Houston.
"Luckily, guys like Lamar and Willie kind of picked up and healed up as we went," head coach John Fox said during this year's owners meetings.
But Young also saw longtime defensive end Jared Allen traded away early in the season from an ill-fitting job at 3-4 outside linebacker to a 4-3 Carolina Panthers Super Bowl team. Musings around the NFL were that Young also wanted to be in a familiar system that used him as a pass-rushing end rather than the 3-4 role that involved the alien act of dropping into pass coverage — going in the literal opposite direction from which Young had built his career.
Young shot down those rumors. “Never did I want to be out of Chicago,” he said Wednesday.
And he may not be anytime soon. What has transpired has been another form of opposite direction, with the Bears expressing interest in adding time to Young’s contract — which expires after this season.
Young has made his thoughts clear: “I would like to be here long-term, absolutely. I would like to finish my career up here in Chicago.”
Whether that happens is in the hands of Young’s agent and the Bears organization. Young last season playfully refused to acknowledge even the suggestion that he was a linebacker, but now even brings up pass defense as something he actually plans to stress.
“I really feel like I showed them I could play the run and rush the quarterback last year,” Young said. “Now I’ll be a lot more emphasis on my personal goals; a lot more emphasis on showing them that I can actually cover, too. Whatever’s going to help me out in the long run and help this team out, I’m all about it.”