ASHBURN, Va. (AP) — When Chase Young stepped on the field for the first practice of Washington Commanders training camp late last month, the brace was off his surgically repaired right knee.
Now the heat is on for Young to return to form in a contract year.
The 2020 No. 2 overall pick who won the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year honor is now nearly two years removed from a torn ACL that derailed his NFL career and is ready to roll. After the team didn’t pick up his fifth-year option, Young is in shape to try to earn another deal and live up to lofty expectations.
“I feel myself,” Young said. “I feel good and I’m running around and I’m feeling explosive again.”
It has been a while since Young looked explosive in game action. Even before the injury in November 2021, the Ohio State product was off to a slow start to his sophomore season with 1 1/2 sacks in eight-plus games.
Surgery was complicated, involving grafting part of Young’s left patellar tendon to repair the tear on the other side. He and his team of medical professionals inside and outside the team took a very cautious approach to recovery and rehab that caused him to miss the vast majority of 2022.
Coach Ron Rivera acknowledged it was very tough to hold Young back. Still, the Commanders knew it would be difficult to get Young back as a feared pass rusher last season.
“It was almost kind of a pie in the sky that he would be who he is,” Rivera said. “(We realized) it’s just going to be a matter of time. He had to work through those things (and) we were hoping he would get back soon, but it just didn’t work and that’s all part of it.”
Young played just 115 snaps over the final three games of the season, the last of which came after Washington was eliminated from playoff contention. The Commanders even without Young ranked third in the league on defense, led by fellow defensive linemen Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne.
The patience is paying off with Young, now 24, flashing some strong moves in camp and showing the benefit of time and experience.
“Chase looks real good,” Sweat said. “He’s starting to be more of a pro. He’s always been a pro, but I think ever since the injury as far as the cold tub and the pre-practice (routine) and the treatments after practice and just things and stuff like that, that’s why I think he’s upped his game a lot.”
Young and Sweat worked out on Ohio State’s campus during the offseason, working with Buckeyes associate coach Larry Johnson. Young said it was about going back to “fine-tune the little things.”
He also talked to Buffalo Bills linebacker Von Miller and Baltimore Ravens receiver Odell Beckham Jr. about coming back from an ACL tear. That just gave him more confidence about what’s to come.
“They said: ‘We just bounce back. That’s just what we do,” Young said. “That’s my plan, and I guess y’all are just going to see what happens.”
The Commanders would love for Young to follow Payne’s path to a productive season. After they decided not to pick up Payne’s fifth-year option, the 2018 first-round pick out of Alabama led the team with a career-high 11 1/2 sacks.
Washington signed Payne to a $90-million, four-year contract. With big-money commitments to Payne and Allen already on the books, it might be tough to pay up to keep Sweat — also on the verge of free agency — and Young, but it’s a gamble the team is hoping works out this season.
Rivera likes what he sees so far.
“It’s good to see Chase moving around the way he did,” Rivera said. “He’s lightyears ahead of where he was last training camp. I think that’s a big deal for us.”
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl