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The Washington Redskins started each of the past two seasons with the oldest roster in the NFL. They have made a concerted effort this offseason to get younger. Nowhere is that more evident than at fullback, where Darrel Young, 24, is poised to supplant Mike Sellers, 36.
Forget any bad feelings, though. Young and Sellers have neighboring lockers at Redskins Park, chat throughout practice each day and hang out during their off time.
“D.Y. is awesome, man. He deserves to be the starter,” Sellers said. “He’s the man.”
Sellers, in fact, effectively helped prepare Young to take the veteran’s job. That is an odd reality in today’s NFL, where jobs are anything but secure. But it reveals why Sellers has been such a locker room leader and why it would be a difficult decision for coaches to exclude him from the 53-man roster.
“He’s like my big brother,” Young said. “I know inside he still wants to be playing fullback. But the way he’s grooming me, still helping me, it makes me appreciate everything so much more.”
Sellers has been a mainstay in the backfield for the past seven years. But he was moved to tight end at the start of training camp. On Monday, he worked out for the first time with the running backs, and Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said Sellers will play in Thursday's preseason game in Baltimore at three positions: fullback, tight end and H-back.
Young has started the team’s first two preseason games at fullback. Lining up at tight end, Sellers has notched a pair of catches but mostly has played late in the game with the reserves, prompting speculation among fans that he might have to sweat out the team’s final cuts.
Even if the team keeps Young and Keiland Williams at fullback, and Chris Cooley, Fred Davis and Logan Paulsen at tight end, Sellers still has his selling points. He’s a former team captain who’s well-respected, particularly among younger players such as Young, and he’s still a top contributor on special teams.
Sellers said that because of “all the speculation” surrounding his future in Washington, he has chosen to steer clear of the media this preseason. But he said he greatly admires the man who appears set to take his spot in the backfield.
“He’s been a great student,” Sellers said of Young. “It’s a father-son type thing.”
Said Young: “As a man, the respect I have for Mike — I feel bad in my heart. I want to play and I know he wants to play. I just want to compete. I don’t want to look at it as anything outside of that. On the field, it’s business.”
Young played running back in high school on Long Island, but converted to linebacker in college. He moved to strong safety his senior year at Villanova, but when he came to the Redskins in 2009 as an undrafted rookie, he hoped again to play linebacker.
After three weeks on Jim Zorn’s practice squad in 2009, Young was released. The Redskins re-signed him immediately after the season — the same day Shanahan was hired as coach. The new coaching staff reviewed film and quickly decided that Young could help the team more as a fullback than a linebacker.
“D.Y. is an excellent fullback,” Shanahan said. “I can tell you that after being around him the first couple of weeks. He’s very smart, very competitive. It’s hard to find guys in that 250-pound range that can block and catch the ball like he can.”
Size and natural ability are one thing, but to learn the new position, Young spent as much time as possible around Sellers, a former Pro Bowler. Young was primarily a special teams contributor last year; he had three carries and caught one pass, a touchdown against Philadelphia.
He said he entered this year’s camp with a completely different understanding of Shanahan's offense.
“I couldn’t even explain to you how different I feel,” he said. “Last year I was nervous about what the defense would do . . . After playing behind Mike Sellers and watching him for a whole season, having him basically teach me, converse with me on a play-to-play basis on why he did what he did — the game is coming easier to me, slowing down now.”
Even though Sellers has spent most of the preseason with the tight ends, the two still constantly talk about the fullback spot.
“I come to the sideline and I don’t even think he’s paying attention,” Young said. “He’ll say, ‘D.Y., you need to do this,’ or ‘Why’d you do that?’ He’s more than just a player to me. He’s a big brother, someone I can rely on.”
Young looks to be a key component of a ground game that needs to post big improvements. The early returns are good: After posting the 30th-ranked rushing attack in the league in 2010, the Redskins have 354 rushing yards in preseason — more than every team except San Francisco.
“The backs we have in this offense and the scheme that Coach Shanahan has put together for us,” Young said, “it’s going to be a good season.”