BEREA: Usama Young has returned to Northeast Ohio on a mission to become a full-time starter in the NFL.
The Browns recently signed Young with the intent of giving him a chance to accomplish his goal. In Young’s eyes, it’s a perfect match.
“I got interest from around the league, but when I looked at Cleveland, I looked at the opportunity,” Young said after the Browns practiced Monday. “I said, ‘Hey, this looks like an opportunity for myself and for the team. Let’s make a run for it.’ ”
Young, a former standout at Kent State University, was drafted by the New Orleans Saints in the third round (66th overall) of the 2007 NFL Draft. He has started six of the 52 games in which he’s played, compiling 106 tackles, one sack, three interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
Now he’s eager to take the next step.
“In New Orleans, we had Darren Sharper coming back,” Young said. “We had Malcolm Jenkins coming back. I found out where I was early on there. I was seen as a reliable player, but I wasn’t on there as a starter. So I’m looking to start. I want to come in, I want to play, I want to help out the team in any way. When you come out to a team, you want to get on the field as much as possible.”
The 6-foot, 200-pound Young started his professional career as a cornerback. After two seasons, he was moved to free safety and buried on the depth chart by Sharper and Jenkins.
“[Young is an] exceptional athlete,” said Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, who was Young’s teammate in New Orleans. “He’s one of those guys that can do everything on the back end. You want him to play nickel cover, he can do that. He can lock you down as a corner. He’s big, he’s rangy, good leaping ability, great ball skills. I think they moved him to safety probably last year down in New Orleans. I always felt that body type-wise and skill set-wise, that’s probably what he’s most suited to doing.”
The Browns are obviously in a much different situation than the Saints. Acquiring a free safety to play alongside T.J. Ward was one of their top priorities heading into free agency. They proved it by giving Young a three-year deal worth about $6 million, a league source said.
Young, however, won’t be handed a starting job. Still, Browns coach Pat Shurmur believes Young is capable of earning it.
“Really whoever [the free safety] is, as well as T.J. in there, they really have to be able to work together, take charge, communicate well,” Shurmur said. “And then you typically play on the weak side, so you have got to be able to come up and support the run. That is typically what we are looking for.
“We feel like [Young] can do that. We were impressed with him watching him play. He was a guy that we had targeted. We feel good that he’s here.”
Young, 26, has attended all of the Browns’ practices since they started this past Saturday. However, he has been forced to watch the action from the sidelines because of rules regarding free agency in the new labor deal. He won’t be allowed to fully participate until the new league year starts. (According to a timeline released by the NFL, the new league year will begin at 4:01 p.m. Thursday.)
When Young is finally allowed to practice again, he’ll compete to succeed unrestricted free agent Abram Elam, another Kent State product who started at safety for the Browns during the past two seasons. Mike Adams has been serving as the first-team defense’s free safety since training camp opened.
“He’s a real physical guy,” Browns General Manager Tom Heckert said of Young. “He’s a really good athlete. He started at corner in college. If you get a physical enough guy, that’s a great transition to safety and New Orleans tried it. I think he’s going to be good.”
“We’ll have to wait and see [if Young starts]. I like Mike Adams. I think he’s a really good football player. So those two guys are going to compete, and we’ll see how it shakes out.”
So will Young seize his opportunity? Does he have what it takes to be a full-time starter in the NFL?
“If I said no, that would immediately make me at a failing pace, so I’m ready,” Young said. “I’ve been working for it, and I’m just going out there every play to succeed.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://browns.ohio.com. Follow the Browns on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ABJ_Browns and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/browns.abj.