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Bears reward Willie Young for remarkable transformation

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – Twelve months ago Willie Young stood at the crossroads of brief Chicago Bears' career.

Coming off a career-high 10 sacks in 2014 (Young’s first with Chicago after playing four years in Detroit), Young faced the daunting task last offseason of not only recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon, but also transitioning from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker.

Unable to participate in John Fox’s first offseason workout program, Young started slowly last summer in Bourbonnais, reduced to mainly individual work and light team-drill participation for the opening weeks of camp. Eventually, when Young’s Achilles completely healed, he became an integral part of Chicago’s defense, finishing second on the team in sacks (6.5) and first in tackles-for-loss (12).

In the end, Young and fellow converted end Lamarr Houston (team-high eight sacks) turned out to be pleasant surprises in Chicago’s frustrating 6-10 season.

For all of his accomplishments, the Bears rewarded Young with a two-year contract extension, league sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan on Saturday morning.

Young is now under contract with the Bears through 2018. He was scheduled to earn $2.45 million in the final year of his deal.

Quite frankly, Young’s growth at outside linebacker is rather remarkable.

By his own admission, Young fancied himself as a hand-in-the-dirt, rush defensive end, but at 6-foot-4, the veteran successfully used his size, speed and length to attack quarterbacks from the unfamiliar two-point stance he played out of.

“I had to figure out how to survive with what I was given,” Young said in June. “You come into the league as a seventh-round draft pick and you’re not expected to be any more than a practice-squad guy, but I never paid that no mind. I continue to live life on the edge ... play ball on the edge ... take my chances. I approached the game as if I were a first-round draft pick. Every day it’s a fight. It’s a jungle out there, man. I’ve never had a break. I don’t expect to get a break. I’m always working.”

Young credited his football talents for ushering him through the change, even though at times last fall he did sound like a man ready to pull the escape cord and return to defensive end.

“I'm pretty good, man,” Young said. “I'm pretty good at what I do. I'm pretty good at what I do. Whatever situation that I'm thrown in, I do pretty good at coming out smelling like a rose. I haven't always been put in the right position or the right situation, but I somehow manage to figure out how to come out smelling like a rose.

“I had to figure it out. That's part of why I'm here today. That's why you guys are asking me questions. I must be doing something right.”

The Bears clearly agreed.