ASHBURN, Va. -- The most noteworthy thing defensive end Chase Young shed in training camp wasn't a blocker -- it was the brace that had covered his right knee late last season and into the spring. That, the Washington Commanders hope, will lead to a Young revival -- similar to what's taking place with their fan base after the ownership change.
Young, the 2020 second overall pick and NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, missed all but the final three games last season after tearing the ACL and rupturing the patellar tendon in his right knee. He had just 1.5 sacks in nine games before the injury in November 2021; he did not record any in his final three games.
But ditching the brace was part of his mental recovery. He used it during minicamp, but started working out without it before training camp.
"It was just time to take it off," Young said. "I feel myself; I feel good. ... I'm feeling explosive."
Two days of practice without pads can only reveal so much, but coaches and teammates say they see a difference in Young.
"You see the get-off," Washington coach Ron Rivera said. "Last year he was hesitant, a little tentative. Last year it took a while before he got out there, and now you see him completely moving around with more confidence and you see him finishing as well."
Washington declined to pick up Young's fifth-year option, making him a free agent after the 2023 season. However, a team source said, they have told him if he produces the way they hope, they would reward him.
To prepare for a pivotal season, Young spent part of his offseason with Baltimore Ravens receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who also had to deal with an ACL injury. Young also worked out at Ohio State with his former position coach, Larry Johnson. Young refers to Johnson as the "guru." But, with Beckham, it was about getting advice from someone who understands overcoming a tough injury.
"He says, 'We bounce back every time. You get injured, you bounce back. That's just what we do,'" Young said. "He gave me great advice; I can't thank him enough."
That's how it appears Washington fans feel about new owner Josh Harris. He attended practice Wednesday, spoke to the team later that afternoon, and was back on the field Thursday -- the first day open to fans.
Approximately 3,000 fans attended the first workout open to the public -- a drastic change from last year, when less than 100 fans showed up on the first day.
It has been around a decade since they had big crowds for single camp practices, going back to 2012 and '13 when they trained in Richmond and quarterback Robert Griffin III was a big draw. Now it's about Harris becoming the new owner by buying out Dan Snyder. Harris attended practice Wednesday and again Thursday, signing autographs and acknowledging occasional chants of "Thank you, Josh!"
Washington added portable stands, including covered VIP sections, that seat a total of around 3,000. The Commanders are expecting a bigger crowd for Saturday's open practice.
"The fans definitely lifted me a lot," Young said. "They're excited about new ownership; just the stands made it feel more like an NFL practice."
Second-year receiver Jahan Dotson said it was "pretty cool" to see the fans come out.
"We know that D.C. is kind of behind us now," he said. "We're super excited for it."
Harris explained his philosophy to the players; he shared about his fandom of the franchise. Harris grew up in suburban Maryland; numerous people among his limited partners have ties to D.C.
"When you have support from the ownership that means a lot," left tackle Charles Leno Jr., said. "Not saying we didn't but in ways we didn't with all the outside noise. I don't expect any outside noise to distract us this year.
"The product on the field is going to determine what happens [with fans] at FedEx Field. That's what we want."
And that product will be enhanced if Young produces.
"Seems to have much more spring," said Leno, who works against him in practice. "From what I'd seen, he didn't trust his ability last year because he was injured. Now he's trusting himself, doing the moves, he's working his stuff. That's all you want."