New Orleans Saints Usama Young Playing Beyond His Years

Randy SavoieAnalyst IIOctober 4, 2010

Saints Safety's Usama Young's sack of Jimmy Clausen ended a Carolina first-half drive.
Saints Safety's Usama Young's sack of Jimmy Clausen ended a Carolina first-half drive.Chris Graythen/Getty Images

It is the Spring of '09 and 24 year-old Usama Young listens as New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator tells his players what he values most in a player.

Brightness...Toughness... Ability...Versatility...that's what I'm looking for men!

On Sunday in the Superdome Young displayed all of those virtues and not very many vices in this predominately Catholic town.

Late in the fourth quarter Young made a game-saving tackle on Carolina Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams to preserve a 16-14 victory. It was last preseason when Sean Payton asked him to switch from cornerback to free safety.

Usually, a position switch is the proverbial kiss of death, but Young heard Williams say, "I like versatile players. Corners have to play safety. Safeties have to play corner," and then he went out and seized the day.

Carpe Diem! Carpe Diem! Carpe Diem, I tell ya!

With time ticking away and Carolina moving dangerously close to scoring the winning points, Usama Young wrapped up DeAngelo Williams for a 4-yard loss on 2nd-and-8 from the Saints 36 yard-line.

Three plays later, Drew Brees took a knee to run out the clock.

Brees said Ladell Betts was the Saints MVP on offense.

Young may have very well been the MVP of the defense on an afternoon where the Saints dominated their divisional foe but had precious few points to show for it. Earlier in the game, with Carolina facing a 3rd-and-4 from the Panthers 44, Young sacked rookie QB Jimmy Clausen on a safety blitz to stall a drive and force a punt.

Young says he was just trying to show he is a PTP—Prime Time Player.

"The coaches kept putting me in some real good positions to make some plays," Young told WWL Radio. "And the whole time I was out there, I was like 'let's make a big one'- whether it's a sack, an interception—just trying to make something happen in that crunch time."

Young said he sought some advice from a few of the team's elder statesmen when an injury to starting strong safety Roman Harper made it evident he could see more playing time this week.

"Watching a lot of film, asking a lot of questions to the guys that are ahead of me," Young told WWL. "I'm used to talking to Darren Sharper about the free safety but all this week I was talking to Roman (Harper), Darren (Sharper), Pierson (Prioleau), whoever was in that position who has some years on me."

Jonathan Vilma told The Times-Picayune that Young's tackle of Williams was a game-changer.

"It was huge, you saw what it did, it was the kind of play that lit a fire," said Vilma.

Payton said his initial plan was not to play Young that much.

"Initially, it was going to be Prioleau and Usama (Young) a little bit in the nickel but when Pierson got injured, then Chris (Reis) shortly thereafter got injured, it became Usama's role then exclusively," said Payton.

Young did not disappoint, showing he is ready to be known for more than just a great Super Bowl commercial with his dad or ESPN Radio's favorite weekend guest interview.

"Just got to play with some confidence and go out and make some plays," says Usama.

Let's go back in time...

It's the dead of summer at Saints training camp, and Young lines up with the first-string offense. He breaks up a long pass intended for Robert Meachem and a few plays later forces Devery Henderson to fumble, drawing rave reviews from Williams and his teammates as the oppressive New Orleans sun beats down.

Way to go, U!!!! Way to go baby!!!! Impressive, my man....Impressive, dude.....

Young is nothing if not versatile and the third-year veteran wins a heated battle to back up All-Everything Darren Sharper. At 34, Sharper has discovered the Fountain of Youth somewhere on the outer edges of the French Quarter. He's playing like he's 25 again as he leads the NFC in interceptions with seven.

Sharper was the Saints' defense preeminent player after New Orleans reeled off eight consecutive victories to start the season, and it appeared Young would spend 2009 mostly observing the master.

Then, Sharper was injured in a victory against Carolina, and Young's number was up.

Instead of wilting under the pressure, Young awoke the giant within—intercepting a Mark Bulger pass in the Saints end zone—as he made a seamless transition from backup to temporary starter. New Orleans would march 78 yards for a touchdown to capitalize on Young's heroics.

Yeah, he did his best impression of Sharper all right. 

Usama Young has come along way since his days as a hot dog vendor at Redskins games during his high school years in Washington, D.C.

Hot Dogs! Get your hot dogs! They're red hot! Get them while they're hot!

At the tender age of 24, he is arguably the best-known backup defensive back in America, especially after his appearance on a popular Super Bowl commercial last year with his father in which he dreams of playing in "the Big Game."

"Me and my father, we went out to Cali (California) and had a good time shooting the commercial," Young told ESPN Radio Wednesday night. "During the filming, it was said at the end—one of the moments—I said, 'hey, I'm in the Super Bowl and pop said,'it's just a commercial,' but then I said 'wait 'til next year,' but they cut that part out."

"So, hopefully, they'll run that (the commercial) again. You know later on down the line," the likable Sharper says with a laugh. "God willing we can get in this thing."

Could Young have possibly had a premonition of things to come this season for his surprising Saints?

Regarding a possible Super Bowl appearance, he says, "That will be crazy. It will be another fun experience."

As Young handles the national media with the aplomb of a seasoned veteran, you sense his stellar play against the St. Louis Rams was a surprise to everyone but him. In his humility, he credits the veteran Sharper for making him a better player.

"Being behind him in practice, you get to learn a lot from him," Young told ESPN Radio's Freddie Coleman. "Just watching him in the games, you see him make plays and I constantly think where would I have been on the play."

"So, I try to envision myself in the same position that he's in when he's scoring the touchdowns, catching his interceptions (Sharper leads the NFL in career interceptions among active players), and doing his thing. It's just great being behind a future Hall-of-Famer."

Sharper and Young have become fast friends. Perhaps, it is their shared small college pedigree—Sharper from William & Mary, Young out of Kent State.

Anything you want to take from Sharper, Mr. Young?

"Hopefully in years to come, I develop those same skills, where he see routes before the receivers run them because he has a great sense of route recognition. It comes from instincts and football knowledge."


Brightness. Toughness. Ability. Versatility.

"Just seeing him (Sharper) break on different routes, I always ask him 'hold on man! What did you just see? What made you stop in your pedal so early?'" Young told ESPN. "He lets me know where his eyes were and what the quarterbacks options may have been."

Sharper is likely to play Sunday against Tampa Bay, but Young knows odds are he will be called upon again before season's end.

"You try to prepare week in and week out for that. Even though you don't want your players to get hurt. You don't want your teammates to go down, it's part of the game. It's a violent game.

"I go in and say, just in case I get some reps, just in case he goes down, I want to be able to perform at a high level. I want to play like a professional."

Usama Young passed his first first test last Sunday in St. Louis.

A nice trip down memory lane.

However, Usama is more concerned with tomorrows than yesterdays as his clutch play against Carolina would indicate. 

"Just got to play with some confidence and go out and make some plays," says Usama.


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