Lions defensive end Cliff Avril hasn’t signed his franchise tender and doesn’t appear to be close to signing a long-term contract. But the Lions are putting out word that they think they have the right player in place as long as Avril is unsigned.
Willie Young has been working with the first string defense during minicamp and Organized Team Activities, and the Lions’ website has a story up this morning saying that Lions General Manager Martin Mayhew believes Young has been outstanding all offseason. Whether that’s simply an honest assessment of a backup making progress or a hint that the Lions don’t think they need to break the bank to lock Avril down for years to come, Young is one of the players the Lions are making a point of talking up this offseason. And Young says he’s not going to let the opportunity to play with the first-string defense go to waste.
“This is the opportunity I’ve been waiting for,” Young said. “I’m not the one who’s going to crack under pressure. Just do what I’ve been doing.”
Last year Young had three sacks during the regular season, and in the playoffs he made the Lions’ biggest defensive play of a generally dreadful performance against the Saints when he stripped the ball from Drew Brees. (The Lions probably would have scored a touchdown on the fumble recovery if the officials hadn’t wrongly blown the play dead.) Young’s playing time was limited last year because Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch both started every game, but he has looked good in limited action.
If everything goes right for Detroit this year, Young’s action will still be limited: The Lions’ Plan A is still to have Avril and Vanden Bosch as their starting defensive ends. But the presence of Young makes the Lions comfortable with their Plan B.