The Washington Football Team was going through goal line drills during training camp when Chase Young proved himself worthy of the No. 2 overall pick.
Former Washington running back Adrian Peterson took the handoff and prepared to plow through the mound of bodies for a touchdown. But before he could even reach the line of scrimmage, he was met by Young's 6-foot-5, 264-pound frame for a loss, which drew praise from his defensive teammates.
That play has stuck in head coach Ron Rivera’s mind ever since. Not only did it confirm the commonly-held belief that Young had unique potential, but it also assured Rivera that Young could be a leader on the field with his talent. Young's ability doesn't just show up on the stat sheet, though; he's also proven to be just as effective of a leader off the field as well.
"When we were back in camp and watching certain things happening and seeing how excited he would get about it, I thought it was amazing," Rivera said Wednesday. "Then how excited he got about his teammates making plays -- that was even better. That's why I thought this kid brings a lot of energy. He really does. It's kind of cool to watch a young guy with that much enthusiasm and how he spreads it. It's infectious to his teammates."
Players like Alex Smith, who was taken No. 1 overall by the San Francisco 49ers in 2005, understand the pressure high draft picks experience to be leaders on their respective teams. From what Smith has seen, Young doesn't shy away from those demands. He likes to be involved in everything the team does and has even led the team in pregame huddles. "It's crazy unusual," Smith said for a rookie to exude that kind of leadership.
"I think Chase is so comfortable in his own skin and being who he is. I think guys respect that, but it's rare to have a guy that young step in and really affect his teammates as positively as he has. He's definitely unique. I've never seen a guy roam the sidelines like he does as we're on offense. How engaged he is, how honest he is and sincere and how much he cares about his teammates, how much he loves competition. It's very, very rare."
Young's performance on the field is rare as well. Young has 38 tackles, 5.5 sacks, three pass deflections and forced fumbles each, a fumble recovery and a touchdown. He is currently the odds-on favorite to win Defensive Rookie of the Year, and he has delivered several impact plays, one of which was making a diving tackle on Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow that caused the No. 1 overall pick to fumble the ball, which Washington recovered for a touchback.
Plays like that prompted Ryan Kerrigan, the franchise's official sack leader, to say Young's ability is beyond his years.
"I don't really see him as a rookie with where he's at in terms of his development and with where he's at mentally," Kerrigan said. "Even though he is technically a rookie, we see him as a leader on this team."
The plays only got better from there. Young made a touchdown-saving tackle on a 4th-and-goal against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 13, them followed that up with a dominant performance against the San Francisco 49ers. Young had six tackles, a sack, two quarterback hits, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery touchdown that gave Washington a 13-7 lead before halftime.
Rivera said Young brings a lot of energy when he makes those types of plays, and it is infectious for his teammates.
"I think that's the kind of thing that we need from these young guys because it really carries a lot of energy into the group and that's exciting. He's been great. I'm just real happy for him, because again, he went through a lot of things in terms of just trying to get opportunities when he's been doubled and tripled a lot in the past, but he just stayed patient, kept doing his job and it came up big for us today."
Seeing Young get hyped up before, during and after he makes impact plays has made Rivera realize that the rookie is not just a leader by example; he's also an emotional leader.
"He gets his teammates hyped up, he really does," Rivera said. "Not just a good, young rookie player that's going to get better, but there's an emotional energy that he brings. I think his teammates feed off of that as well."
Young said he has always tried to show energy, whether he is on the sideline or in the game. He has not really thought about being a leader so early in his career; he has simply tried to be the best player and teammate possible.
"I just like to support my teammates and be that person that they can look to for energy," Young said. "That's the type of person I think that I turned into at Ohio State, and I feel like that's just me now."
Young has been in position to make those plays because of his awareness and film study, which Rivera believes is at a different level than other rookies. Young is a student of the game, he said, and he's learning how to truly dissect game film. That has helped Young start to have the "aha" moments Rivera says players have in their rookie seasons.
"You're starting to see him really get more and more comfortable in our share and just how important it is to do things within the framework of the defense," Rivera said. "Things that these guys do impact the players next to them, and that's one of the big things they have to understand as they're growing and developing in this defense."
Rivera said he believed Young was going to change the entire team when Washington drafted him in April. He wanted Young to be a pivotal piece to the team's future, and even though it has not even been a full season, Young has proven to be all that and more, whether he is roaming the sideline inspiring his teammates or wreaking havoc on opposing offenses.
"He continues to have a big impact beyond his play on this team," Smith said. "I do think that is special for a young guy. I think that says a lot certainly about who he is as a person."