Finally, in early August, Young appeared with the rest of the team for ramp-up workouts. On the first day of contact practices, he shucked a blocker and ignited a social media frenzy. Hope was becoming reality. Then he hurt his left hip flexor.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” Young said. “But I got to roll with the punches. Right now, my biggest focus is just doing everything in my power to get my hip back right. That’s what I’m doing every day, and I’m doing my best on the field to get mental reps.”
Since tweaking the hip, Young has progressed from side sessions to limited participation in individual drills to a few snaps in full-team situations. Coach Ron Rivera has emphasized the 21-year-old should return slowly because rehabbing the right way is more important than rushing back. The hip still doesn’t feel 100 percent, Young said, but he took the next step toward returning Tuesday when he played some snaps in nine-on-nine and 11-on-11 drills. He hopes to return to full participation in the next few days.
Time is running short for Young to get back up to speed. Training camp continues to fly by — only four practices remain, including Thursday’s session at FedEx Field — and the countdown to the season opener against Philadelphia was at 19 days Tuesday. That might mean Young will start the season outside the first line of defensive ends; so far in practice Montez Sweat and Ryan Kerrigan have been taking most of the snaps with the first team.
For a player as touted and important as Young, he seems unfazed by being made to work for a starting spot on the defensive line.
“I’m a worker. I don’t have a problem with working,” he said. “Adversity is always going to come — that’s life. So, me? I’m always going to roll with the punches.”
As far as the injury, Rivera is not worried. He knows that Young, when healthy, will get after the quarterback, and he has seen the rookie put in enough mental preparation to be ready to play when his body is right. The coach wants to see his top draft pick understand the intricacies of each play-call, how to “shut down the edges” and keep every play in front of and inside him.
“He’s done a great job showing us he’s capable of that,” the coach added. “It’s unfortunate he missed a couple of days with his [hip flexor], but he’s had a good couple of days.”
Coaches seem to find it hard to fault Young — even for what he did to injure the hip about a week ago. It happened when the defensive line was in an agility drill to hone lateral quickness. Young, competitive as always, was pushing himself to beat everyone, including superb athlete and fellow defensive end Sweat. He put himself in an awkward position and he knew it, but “I wanted to win so bad I really didn’t care.” Then Young felt his hip pull, and he returned to practice the next day with an ice pack.
Afterward, in his limited reps, Young still flashed the athleticism and potential that has so many with Washington excited about his arrival. Over the weekend, he slipped by the right tackle in a nine-on-nine drill, burst into the backfield and leaped as quarterback Kyle Allen tried to loft a pass over his head to the running back. Young swatted the ball as he was high in the air, and a whistle blew the play dead. It was a good reminder of what Young is capable of — even at less than 100 percent.
Off the field, teammates have noticed Young handle his business like a veteran. Defensive end Ryan Anderson remarked on Young’s maturity in staying mentally locked in and pantomiming steps during installs. Left tackle Geron Christian noted Young’s penchant for soaking up information from Sweat and Kerrigan. Linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis pointed out that he has seen a lot of first-round picks during his seven seasons in the NFL, but he believes Young’s talent and even temperament mean “you can’t really ask for more from a guy like that.”
Every day, regardless of participation, Young is one of the front-row spectators of Rivera’s post-practice speech.
“We’ll talk in the locker room and stuff, and you can tell that he’s hungry,” said Christian, who has faced Young during drills. “Even now, when he’s limited and not taking all those reps, you can tell that he’s focusing and trying to learn and soak up everything he can.”
For now, Young remains mostly an idea on the field. But his actions off it inform how he plays, how he handles adversity and how he is as a pro. That appears to have his teammates and coaches excited about the player he can become.