Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  Last updated 6/20/13
No more Mr. August. This is the year defensive end Willie Young has to produce for the Detroit Lions when it counts. A year ago, Young was anointed by many as the breakout player to watch following a standout preseason. He took advantage of teammate Cliff Avril's absence early in training camp and carried that momentum into the exhibition games when he was all over the field, getting a sack, forcing a fumble, recovering a fumble, making an interception and even blocking a punt. But when the regular season arrived, Young disappeared. "Underachieved totally," Young admitted. "Completely underachieved from my personal goals." Young had started to show his potential in his second year in the league when he made three sacks in limited playing time in 2011. In 2012, he had no sacks in 16 games. "I know how it is to have a somewhat-OK season for the snaps you were getting and I know how it is to have a bad season with the snaps you were getting," Young said. "My goals were set high (last season). I achieved pretty low. It was a tough season overall for me. But I'm not dwelling on it." Young, a seventh-round draft pick out of North Carolina State in 2010, never got consistent snaps while playing behind Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch the last two years. At times, he even dropped to No. 4 in the rotation last season behind Lawrence Jackson. Young can play both sides of the line, but he spent much of the time behind Avril, who had signed a one-year, 10-million franchise tender. "When that guy wants to come in, he's in the game," Young said. "I'm kind of like the clean-up guy. Come in, give that guy a breather and then I go back out." Avril, however, is gone now after signing a free-agent contract with Seattle. Vanden Bosch (released) and Jackson (signed with Minnesota) also have departed. The Lions made two significant moves to try to fill the voids - selecting BYU's Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah with the No. 5 pick overall in the draft and signing veteran free agent Jason Jones - but there's still a shot for Young to earn more playing time. He spent much of the off-season working at right end on the first-team defensive line, along with Jones and tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. "I have an opportunity to get some quality snaps next to Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh," said Young, who signed a one-year, 1.5-million contract with Detroit after becoming a restricted free agent during the off-season. "I don't think I've ever been on the field with those two guys at the same time. If so, very rare. "It's going to be interesting to see, man." Jones appears locked in as the starter at left end, replacing Avril. If Ansah, who grew up in Africa, struggles to make a quick transition to the NFL after only three seasons of football experience, Young (6-foot-4, 251 pounds) could hang on to that starting job on the right side. Even if Ansah lives up to his potential, Young appears to be in line for a bigger role than last year. Rookie Devin Taylor, a fourth-round pick from South Carolina, will also compete for a spot in the rotation. One advantage that Young has over Ansah and Taylor is his two years in NFL, which included learning day-in and day-out from Vanden Bosch and Avril. "This is an opportunity here that maybe I expected last year," Young said. "Right now it's all up to me. The ball's in my court. "Come out, show up every day, be a professional and apply what I've learned from the veterans to the day." And do it in September, October, November ... not just in August.
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