Defensive end Willie Young had a career year tackling quarterbacks in 2014, getting 10 sacks after signing with the Chicago Bears. Young had flashed before -- not surprising when you consider that he's tall, long, athletic and surprisingly powerful for a man his size -- but he only had six sacks combined in his four-year stint with the Detroit Lions. Until last season, he had never put all of his physical gifts together to the point where he was dominant.
You might be wondering how in the hell a dude who touched dougle-digit sacks last season be a breakout player this season. Well, I'm glad you asked.
Young only started eight of the 15 contests he played in last season. I know some folks think starting is overrated, but I will always call bullshit on that. In all but the rarest occasions, the starter is going to play the lion's share of the game no matter how good his backup is. He is going to be the one in there at crunch time, giving him more opportunities to make big plays. That also means being a backup sucks a lot more than starting, which I can speak to from experience.
I felt like Young should have been starting over defensive end Jared Allen -- another free agent addition -- most of last season anyway. But, hey, I don't coach the Bears.
Then again, the cats who made the call to start Allen over Young last year don't coach the Bears anymore.
Somehow I doubt the new coaching staff is going to put their leading sack man back on the bench after he started the last seven games of the season. I know he blew out his Achilles, but we've seen at least two players in recent years tear their Achilles in the spring and still be healthy enough to play before the regular season ended. So I'm fairly confident he will be healthy by the time the season starts. And as last year showed us, a healthy Young is hell on opposing offensive lines.
In addition to the prospect of increased playing time, the other reason I think Young will break out this year is because of the scheme switch from a shitty version of a 4-3 defense to Vic Fangio's 3-4 system. You may remember Fangio most recently coordinated the San Francisco 49ers defense. There, he had this tall, long, athletic and surprisingly powerful outside linebacker by the name of Aldon Smith. Yeah, Smith has had his issues off the field, but his first two seasons were unreal. We're talking about 14 sacks as a rookie pass rushing specialist and 19.5 sacks the next season as a full-time starter. He wasn't just good before the trouble and the suspensions, he was fucking great!
See what I'm getting at here?
Yeah, 10 sacks is definitely nothing to sneeze at, but Young's move to the outside linebacker position will allow him to realize his full athletic potential. Even with his sack total last season, I don't think many teams went into games against the Bears "fearing" Young or game planning to try to stop him. I expect that to change in a hurry this year as he takes the next step in his development.