ALLEN PARK -- Training camp practices are rich with audible identifiers.
The snap count of a quarterback, the grunts of colliding linemen and the smack of a spiraling football hitting a receiver’s hands all would make a Detroit Lions practice recognizable to even blindfolded fans.
There is also another, less common, sound that can often be heard by those attending a practice session; the sound of defensive line coach Kris Kocurek yelling, “Go Willie, go Willie, go Willie”.
During team scrimmages, Kocurek is routinely heard pushing developing pass rusher Willie Young, encouraging him to reach the quarterback.
“It’s motivation and Kris is the kind of coach that, even if you’re doing good, he’s going to continue to push you,” said Young. “Even on a good day or a bad day, it doesn’t matter. You’re going to know he’s behind you 100 percent and you’re going to know he’s there. I don’t have the issue of finishing but just to hear that, it just enforces it even more.”
Young has enjoyed the benefit of an increased workload during this year’s training camp, partnering with Lawrence Jackson to supplement the snaps of starter Cliff Avril, who ended his brief holdout on Sunday.
Watching Young participate in his third training camp is a testament to his growth.
The Lions selected Young with the 213th pick in the 2010 NFL draft and – despite his 6-foot-5 frame – he was not noticeable on the field as a rookie.
Young entered the NFL at the mature age of 24 but clearly wasn’t ready for the pros.
He had minimal game-day contributions, appearing in only two games and the same coaching staff that drafted him has since admitted he wasn’t yet ready to play in the NFL as a rookie.
“He still hadn’t really become a pro yet,” said head coach Jim Schwartz. “There’s a lot of transition that goes on. Some guys take to it a little bit quicker. He had some maturing to do. Physically he did, but also emotionally, mentally or whatever, but he did. He made a big jump last year and looks and appears as though he’s made another similar jump.”
The athletic defensive end has had no issues making “jumps” during his third training camp.
During 11-on-11 drills in Monday’s practice, Young lined up with the first team defense at left defensive end.
Simultaneous to the snap of the ball Young exploded past Gosder Cherilus. As the chant of “go Willie” echoed in the background, Young was steaming towards a dropping Matthew Stafford. Noticing the pressure, Stafford attempted to lob a safe pass over Young to a check down option; instead Young leaped in the air, snagged the pass and brought it to the end zone.
Only a few plays later, Young missed a second ball by inches.
“That’s just my specialty, that’s what I do,” said Young. “I put the work in to be able to make those kind of plays and having the inside guys, the way they play, getting movement, it forces the whole offensive line to do stuff they don’t want to. It forces them out of their technique, which allows me, off the edge, to be productive. I take advantage of that every time I can.”
After discussing the play with Young, I told him he looks like he’s going to be dangerous this season.
“Look like I’m going to be dangerous?,” he asked in return. “I’m about to be an assault rifle out there.”
Young looks poised to have a breakout 2012, perhaps prompting fans to do their best coach Kocurek impression on Sundays: Go Willie, Go Willie, Go Willie!