Now that Lamarr Houston and Willie Young are coming off back-to-back impressive games at their new positions, what – if anything – does it mean for the Bears’ future at the position? Patrick Finley and Kevin Fishbain discuss in Take 2.
Finley: Kevin, the Bears have a luxury among their outside linebacker corps – and I mean that in the truest sense of the word. Lamarr Houston and Willie Young, backups for most of the season, are making a combined $10 million this season. When defensive MVP Pernell
McPhee failed to get on the team plane Saturday, though, the two came up big. Are the converted defensive ends starting to get the hang of outside linebacker? And what does that bode for their future, if they have one here at all?
Fishbain: Pat, did you just call Willie Young an outside linebacker? How dare you! He made it very clear that he is a defensive end. Well, I hate to break it to the team’s best fisherman, but he sure seems to be getting the hang of a two-point stance as an OLB. Lost in the win over San Diego was his run defense, and he applied consistent pressure against St. Louis. Lamarr Houston is showing off his strength to get to the quarterback, but is he ready to be a full-time player? Unless either proves to have the potential of being a starter opposite McPhee in 2016, the Bears can move on without much of a cost. But with seven games left, it’s not a stretch to think one or both keep ascending, is it?
Share Events on The CubeFinley: We tend to talk about the two as one entity, but they’re not. Young has been better this season, and the $3.16 million cap hit he’ll take next season is less than half that of Houston. Young could be a bargain; Houston won’t be. Both, though, are getting a chance to show the Bears – and, possibly, their next employer – that they can play 3-4 outside linebacker and, perhaps, rush with their hands in the ground on passing plays. Consider: against the Vikings, Young and Houston combined to play 11 snaps. In two games since then, they’ve played 151. The tryout is on. Still, I think the Bears’ greatest need in the offseason is a pass-rusher across from McPhee. Is there anything the two can show to change that?
Fishbain: Landing a speed, 3-4 edge rusher in the draft has seemed like a top priority, but wouldn’t be ideal if Houston or Young really established himself as a starter? The Bears have so many needs – cornerback, offensive line, inside linebacker, defensive line, maybe running back – they could bump OLB down in priority if they can rely on Houston and/or Young for another season, especially since they’re already under contract. Ryan Pace can bring Sam Acho back, add a rookie and be set, but would the two Emery signings want that. It sure seems like Young would prefer to be in a 4-3, and how much longer can Houston put on a happy face and be a rotational player?
Finley: Their fit in Vic Fangio’s system is suspect, even on a good day. But I wonder if the more those good days pile up, maybe Young will start to picture his future as an outside linebacker. Both have been good teammates and, in the public eye, good soldiers. But Houston has played 30 percent of the Bears’ snaps this year. He doesn’t want to do that next year, I presume. Here’s the question that no one can answer: Now that both are healthy and have been in the system for more than half a season, will they continue to improve next week and the week after? When have they topped out? What’s the sound of one hand clapping? Kevin? KEVIN?
Fishbain: Pat, no need to shout, though I’m sure Willie Young was as loud as ever when he got his first career interception, then reeled in a big one in his celebration. They’re going to get opportunities, especially if McPhee’s knee remains an issue. Houston and Young have worked hard, and they want to be productive – even if it’s not their ideal position – and we can all agree the Bears are in good shape if the duo truly look like bonafide contributors by season’s end. If not, then Pace can continue to make the roster younger and Young and Houston can find better landing spots.