Chase Young had heard the stories before joining the Washington Football Team last summer. He knew the team's veterans were not obligated to be his mentor, which would have forced him to learn how to be an NFL player through other means.
Fortunately for him, that was not his experience with Ryan Kerrigan. The 10th-year veteran and franchise’s eventual all-time official sack leader took the No. 2 overall pick under his wing, just as he did with all his younger teammates, and taught him what it takes to have a long, successful professional career.
Those lessons, whether they be tips on taking care of their bodies or in-depth discussions on proper technique, have always been appreciated by the young defensive linemen. That knowledge helped Washington have one of the most successful pass-rushes in the NFL this season, and its value will be felt for years to come.
"I always thank RK for doing that, and I always thank him for the type of man that he is and just [taking] me with open arms and teaching me the game," Young said during his exit interview. "RK knows it's all love, and we're going to have this relationship forever."
It did not take long for Kerrigan to notice Young's talent. Young had impressed him with how quickly he was understanding the nuances of the defense during the virtual offseason program. Not only did Young have the physical ability to play in the NFL, but he already had the mental capacity to operate in a professional system.
The bond began to escalate when the players met in person for the first time during training camp. Kerrigan started to "put his arm around Chase," according to head coach Ron Rivera, which was neat for him to watch. Kerrigan gave him tips on a variety of topics, but most of their initial conversations centered around taking care of himself off the field.
"Just rolling out, getting your body activated and stretched out before practice," Young said. "I did it myself, but it's even new stuff that he helped me with that I added on to my routine."
The mentor role is one that has come more naturally to Kerrigan over the years. He admitted that he is not a vocal person, but as he has gained experience and accomplished more in the NFL, he has become more comfortable sharing information with his teammates.
"'This is how I was able to play all those games in a row,' and 'This is how I was able to feel good Week 1 and Week 17,'" Kerrigan said. "I've just been trying to impart that on a lot of guys, especially Chase. I've been around Chase a lot over the first couple of weeks. He's a guy who wants this information. He wants to know how to be great. I want to impart as much as I can on him and help him because...the sky's the limit for that guy."
On the field, Kerrigan is a willing teacher to teammates of all different skillsets. He had a detailed conversation with defensive tackle David Bada, who is part of the NFL's International Pathway Program, about using proper technique against offensive linemen. And when he is not handing down knowledge, he is leading by example, which has been praised by Rivera all season.
"You see Ryan over at the side doing extra reps when the offense is up as he works on his game and sets the example for those young guys," Rivera said. "That's what I think is really what's helping the culture change as well as the coaches that are on this staff and the players."
All the while, Kerrigan has watched as Washington's younger defensive linemen have grown into quality players. Montez Sweat led the team in sacks -- a feat he accomplished six times in his career -- while Young finished his rookie season with 7.5 sacks -- the same number Kerrigan did during his first season. On the interior, Daron Payne played in all 16 games for the second time in his career and finished with 54 tackles and three sacks. He also got his first-career interception, which Kerrigan has done three times in 10 seasons.
"He is a guy that you can just sit back and watch and emulate," Payne said. "Everything he does is the right way to do things, and you can learn so much from him if you just sit back and watch him. I appreciate him, I love him to death and I'm just happy that I got a chance to play with him."
Washington's bevy of young players got to see firsthand the benefits that can come from handling their careers in a professional manner. Kerrigan led the team with a pair of sacks against the Philadelphia Eagles in the season opener to become the franchise's all-time official sack leader.
"When you're a dude, you're just special," Young said of Kerrigan after the game. "In my mind and the definition of the dude, I think if you're a dude you're expected to make plays. RK is one of the dudes that's going to make plays. I was definitely happy for him. He made a lot of plays today. What that does for me, I go ask him question after question and ask him: 'How did you get your game like that?' I feel like every play RK makes, I try to make."
Kerrigan has been helping his teammates become better players for years, and thanks in part to his work with Washington's other defensive linemen, he knows the position group is taken care of for the future.
"Either way, the D-Line is in good hands here," Kerrigan said. "Chase is an awesome player, Sweat is gonna be hell for years to come. Daron Payne, to finish the year like he did was pretty awesome to see. And Jon Allen was a beast as well. So, the D-Line is in good hands. That's for sure."