Commanders defensive end Chase Young is entering a prove-it season most didn't expect would arrive so soon.
Because Washington declined to pick up Young's fifth-year option earlier this offseason, the importance of the 2023 season has increased significantly. It's been nearly three years since Young played in more than nine games in a season, and he'll need to prove he can be both available and productive in what is now a contract season.
The first step toward achieving these goals is to get as healthy as possible. Then, it's about putting in the work to overcome some surprising doubt.
"Since I came in the game, I was in the game to prove myself," Young told reporters on Tuesday after the start of the Commanders' mandatory minicamp. "So I'm not really thinking anything different. Going out there and playing my game."
Young was remarkably succinct in his responses with the media on Tuesday, almost as if he didn't have much interest in speaking when he knows there's plenty left to accomplish. Instead of being the favorite guy in town and a franchise cornerstone, the former No. 2 overall pick and Defensive Rookie of the Year is now a player who has money and security to earn.
Spending time talking about it isn't very productive, and Young conducted himself accordingly, telling reporters he feels "night and day" different from last year when he didn't make his season debut until Week 15 following an ACL tear in 2021.
When pressed to elaborate, Young declined.
"Watch the film from today's practice," he advised.
Young said he's focused on himself, not his financial future, and head coach Ron Rivera seemed to be thinking similarly when speaking earlier Tuesday.
"Well, I think the biggest thing as far as he's concerned more than anything else is just being healthy," Rivera said of Young. "You know, he started to get healthier by the end of the year and played for us in four games. And we just want to see him pick up where he left off. He was starting to play faster and faster and just love to see him get out there and really run around and kind of cut a loose and not be tentative. And that's probably the biggest thing for him."
Young will have the next two months to get back to game speed at full strength, and although training camp will take its usual toll on his body, it's fair to expect him to be in the best condition since his rookie season back in 2020. After all, he's had most of the last two years to address his health concerns and prepare for the most important season of his career.
Rivera told reporters they're "gonna be smart" when it comes to the amount of work players like Young are tasked with completing at this stage. Young said later Tuesday he feels "like myself today," which is undoubtedly encouraging.
"I feel good," Young said. "I think my teammates know when I come out on the field, I'm gonna bring the juice. Something I've always done."
He'll certainly need to do so plenty in 2023 to earn a lucrative future in Washington.