Injured rookie receiver Young watches Lions from sidelines


Chris McCosky/ The Detroit News

Allen Park — Can’t imagine what’s going on inside of rookie receiver Titus Young these days, but the phrase all revved up with no place to go comes to mind.

He has to stand aside and watch while the other 11 wide receivers go through position drills. During seven-on-seven and team drills, all he can do pop his head into the huddle, hear the play and then get out of the way.

During special team drills, he is off to the side catching passes with one of the ball boys.

This isn’t at all how Titus Demetrius “TD” Young — as he announced himself to Detroit on draft day — envisioned his first NFL training camp. But then again, he didn’t figure on injuring his right leg on the first day of practice, either.

The Lions aren’t saying much about the injury. Leg stiffness is what they are calling it. Young, a very personable and outgoing guy, isn’t saying much about it either.

“I will talk to you guys when I get back,” he said Saturday. “It should be next week some time.”

He said he wasn’t frustrated. He said it would all be for the best. That’s faith speaking — his spiritual faith and faith in himself.

But you don’t have to be a shrink to feel his anxiety. He wants to show the coaches and his teammates that he was worthy of that second round pick. He wants to show everybody that he is the guy who can fill the void at the third receiver spot, that he is the speedy, field-stretching playmaker that might be able to open some space for Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson and Brandon Pettigrew.

He desperately wants to be the guy making catches and thrilling the fans during these long, hot practice sessions.

Instead, all he can do watch, wait and sign autographs when he’s asked.

Young is not in danger of being cut; let’s be clear about that. But with each passing day, with each missed rep, it starts to feel like the team is moving on without him.

“It’s still way early in camp,” coach Jim Schwartz said, diffusing any undue stress Young might be feeling. “We haven’t even played a preseason game yet. He’s done a very, very good job of staying involved and staying active with things he can do. When he’s out there he just needs to take advantage of his opportunity.

“How far behind is he? That’s really yet to be seen.”

No, he is behind. He was behind before he was injured. The lockout wiped out a rookie mini-camp and OTAs. He did get a crash course in the offense from Burleson and quarterback Matthew Stafford during the team’s voluntary workouts, but that’s grossly insufficient.

The Lions are in a tough spot, too. Because he practiced that first day, they can’t put him on the physically unable to perform list. There is no such thing as a short-term injury list. If they were to put him on the injured list – his injury isn’t believed to be that extensive – he’d have to miss the entire season.

They just have to wait for him to get healthy and get on the field and see how quickly he can make up for lost time.

But something general manager Martin Mayhew said on Friday resonated regarding players like Young and first-round pick, defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who is going to miss all of training camp with a broken foot.

“With the rookies (across the league), you are going to see a lot of those guys not make an immediate impact who would have had the ability to make an immediate impact with an offseason,” he said. “It’s going to be a different year for rookies.”

The more time Young misses, the harder it will be to catch up enough to make the kind of impact the Lions were hoping he’d make this season. That’s partly why the Lions have 11 other receivers in camp and that’s why Mayhew will continue to scour the waiver wires looking to upgrade the position.

As it is now, eight of the 11 receivers (not counting Young) are fighting for what probably will be one roster spot.

The Lions typically keep five receivers, with one of them being return specialist Stefan Logan. Johnson and Burleson are the starters. Young has been penciled in as the third receiver.

That would leave the following players fighting for one spot – veterans Derrick Williams, Rashied Davis and Maurice Stovall, second-year players Tim Toone and Nate Hughes, and rookies Demario Ballard, Marcus Harris and Dominique Barnes.

If the season started tomorrow, Williams would be the third receiver. The former third-round pick is having the best camp of his career. But Davis has value, too, as an elite special teams player. Stovall is 6-foot-5 and has shown well early on. Ballard is raw, but his size (6-foot-6, 220 pounds) and speed (4.45 seconds in the 40-yard dash) have raised some eyebrows.

So put yourself in Young’s shoes, having to sit idly by as this competition burns day after day — not necessarily the competition for the roster spot, but the competition to be the third receiver.

It can’t be easy.

“We assume he will get back on the field and be able to make plays,” Schwartz said. “If he does, then he won’t be behind at all.”

If it were only that simple.

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