Let's state the obvious here: 2023 is going to be an important year for Chase Young.
Young, who missed more than a calendar year and most of the 2022 season with a torn ACL and patellar tendon, is back at practice -- without a knee brace -- and eager to remind people why he was the 2020 No. 2 overall pick and the Defensive Rookie of the Year. Young looked explosive back in June during mandatory minicamp, but he was noticeably absent for the voluntary portion of the offseason.
So, where was he? It turns out Young was back at Ohio State, where he became the most dominant pass-rusher in college football, working with his former defensive line coach Larry Johnson to fine tune his pass-rushing ability for Year 4.
The extra time with the defensive line guru proved to be invaluable.
"Mr. Miyagi is what we call him," Young said of Johnson with a laugh. "It was good to get it in."
Johnson is known for helping mold some of the best pass-rushers playing in the NFL today. Aside from Young, the list of players Johnson has coached includes Nick and Joey Bosa, who have accumulated a combined 103.5 sacks in their careers. Young and both of the Bosa brothers went on to win Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Throughout their time together, Young impressed Johnson with his work ethic. That led to the creation of a close bond between the two that was built on respect and faith.
"He knew exactly what a tackle was going to do, when he's going to kick set wide, when he's going to kick set back," Johnson said. "He knew all those things going into the game, that he had a game plan for exactly what was going to happen."
As for ridding Young of his high school techniques, Johnson helped fix his stance and hand movements. Ohio State's pass rush techniques can be intricate, so Young's hands and eyes all had to work in sync. Once Young understood the reasons for the changes, which was to make him a better player, he dedicated himself to mastering them.
"When he did it perfectly, it was...beautiful," Johnson said. "It was like music and playing a very great note because you knew it looked good."
That bond still exists between Young and Johnson, which is why Young decided to go back to the coach to prepare for what will be his most critical season up to this point in his career.
"That's who I think made me who I am today in terms of a man and player," Young said. "I just had to go back and fine tune the little things, the small things, and it was good."
The Washington Commanders were back on the field for the first day of 2023 training camp. Here are the best photos from the practice. (Photos by Emilee Fails and Kourtney Carroll/Washington Commanders)
Coach Ron Rivera has noticed the extra work. Most of what he has observed from Young is related to how he looks now compared to last season, but it helps that Young is moving around with confidence and showing flashes of his skill set.
"You see the get off first and foremost," Rivera said. "Last year he was a little hesitant, a little tentative but last year it took him a while before he got out there completely. So, you see him moving around with a lot more confidence. You see him finishing as well. And that's the other thing."
Young wouldn't say he's at the level he was at in 2020 yet, but he is feeling more comfortable and is determined to get back to full strength.
"That's the plan. That's always the plan and just taking it one day at a time. Just be where your feet are and just staying consistent."
It sounds like Young is getting closer by the day.
"Just know that I feel good and I'm running around and I'm feeling explosive again."