- College football reporter.
- Joined ESPN.com in 2008.
- Graduate of Northwestern University.
- ESPN staff writer
- Joined ESPN in 2011
- Graduated from Central Michigan
As Chase Young prepares for the NFL draft, there’s one thing opposing Big Ten players and coaches can agree on: They will not miss him.
Last season at Ohio State, Young missed two games and still finished with 16.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, 58 quarterback pressures and even a bit of Heisman buzz.
When searching for comparisons, the names Myles Garrett and Shawne Merriman come up, but one coach had to go beyond the football field — beyond the human species, in fact — to find an apt analogy.
“Gosh, everything we try to do, he seems to defeat us,” Indiana coach Tom Allen said. “It’s like in an action movie. You have a plan to take care of this thing you can’t destroy, you think you have him, and then, boom, he comes right through the flames.”
To get a sense of exactly what it was like to prepare to play Young and then to have to line up in front of him, we spoke to coaches and players who had to do just that during the 2019 season. They provide the clearest explanation yet of exactly what the NFL should expect.
First impressions: ‘You could just tell he was physically blessed’
Allen: He was so well proportioned physically. He kind of reminded me in that regard of Shawne Merriman. When you see him, that’s the only other guy I’ve seen in person that looked like that. He has that freaky … if you take that 6-2, perfect-build linebacker and you just stretch that out to 6-foot-6, that’s what he looked like. There aren’t many out there; there really aren’t.
Cincinnati OL Chris Ferguson: When I first saw him, he’s a big dude. Film doesn’t really do it. He’s a big dude in person. Playing against him, he’s quick-twitch.
Former Indiana offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer: You could just tell he was physically blessed. He’s dominant because he’s worked hard on making himself a better football player, but 6-6 and 260, 270, that type of stature, complemented by the speed off the edge, is just so impressive.
Michigan State OL Tyler Higby: I remember when I first went out there, on the scouting report during the week, I don’t remember the exact height and weight we had him at, probably 6-6, but I remember going out there, looking at him and thinking, “Damn, he’s a little taller than I thought he was.”
Northwestern offensive line coach Kurt Anderson: He’s got all the tools of an edge rusher that make you have to game plan a little bit for him, because he can change the course of a game with one strip sack, a critical third-down type of deal that makes the quarterback move and throws the timing off of deep routes. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to coach in the NFL and see some of these elite edge rushers. Coached in the SEC against Myles Garrett. He reminded me of somebody like that.
Devising a game plan: ‘If you leave him one-on-one with a guy, it’s over’
Wisconsin offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph: The biggest thing was early in the week, like Day 1, I got to teaching them how quickly this is going to happen up the field. If you’re not exposed to that, then the first thing you do is if you get beat or pressured or insecure about it, you start to change up what you do fundamentally. We did all we could, man. We lined guys up offsides all week in practice, and we have fast guys, but just put them in that position.
Anonymous Power 5 coordinator: Part of their whole deal with him is wanting you to put so much attention on him. They wanted you last year to divert all of your attention to how you could put together a game plan or protect for him so you could have less people out in routes. If you put your back in, they’re playing seven guys in coverage against your four eligible receivers because you’re losing your running back on routes, so it played a specific advantage to them.
Former Michigan State offensive coordinator Brad Salem: The other issues in passing down, third down, your protection has to slide to him, or your back has to help and chip. Then there’s certain things you can’t do, like your back getting out, certain protections and certain directions, so it limits what you do.
Former Penn State offensive line coach Matt Limegrover: We were going to try to chip him with our tight ends or check him with our back as much as we could. One thing about Ohio State’s defensive coaches is they’re not dummies. They know people are going to have a plan for them. You try to start moving guys around and then they move him around and you’re trying to adjust your protection.
Allen: Any time you have a guy like that, who is so disruptive, he can basically single-handedly destroy your pass game, he can disrupt your run game. There are only a few of those guys where you say we need to know where he is at all times and if you leave him one-on-one with a guy, it’s over.
Anderson: You’ve got to game plan some things to mess with him early in the game. In the run game, we brought everybody at him, receivers to cut off the back side, we had tight ends to go back on the back side and cut, whatever we could do in the run game just to get him off-kilter, make him think about other things besides rushing the passer.
Rudolph: Michigan did a good job of leaving their back. They just said, ‘Screw it, we’re not going to get to a checkdown with our tailbacks.’ They just left their tailback in, and he would always go in to help the outside chip help or the outside double protection of Chase.
Allen: That’s a bad feeling, because you’re always having to give help to that person’s side, and then that creates problems. They’re so talented across the front that you put too much into him and then someone else is going to beat you.
Clemson OL Jackson Carman: I watched a lot of film, at least an hour every day of Ohio State and how they ran things and him specifically. The different looks he gave off on film, I asked my guys to help me replicate that, his straight edge rush, his swipe, his counter, things like that to have them down. I really focused in on his demeanor, his stance, when I was studying him. His pad level after his first step. One thing I noticed on film was, after his first step or two, his pad level raised and dramatically increased his ability to counter inside.
Ferguson: When I watch film, I like to watch the third quarter or early fourth. You really start to see how guys play, because you’re tired and that’s when your tendencies come out. What I saw on tape, straight through he was quick-twitch and still going. His best move was a double swipe, so I tried to hand-fight him and not give him my hands or commit to one move.
Game time: ‘He’s two steps going, and our tackle’s just starting to take his first step’
Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell: Going into the game, you know you have to do so much. It might be simple things, like we’ve got to make sure we slide more to this side. We’ve got to make sure we’ve got the ability to chip with the back. We’re not going to be like some others and say, “We’re not going to take our chances and put this guy in a situation.”
Rudolph: As simple as it was, the most unique part of him was how quickly he got up the field. When you watch him and you see his first step and you see how much ground he covers on his first step, he does a great job of working on timing the snap count and using all the information he can pre-snap to be as quick as he can off the ball.
Allen: We can’t hold the ball too long, we have to chip him with our back, we have to slide to him, we have to double-team him with our tight end or whatever you need to do. All those things sound good, but that takes away from other things we like to do, so he was a nightmare.
Carman: I was smiling the whole time. It was a surreal moment for me, not only as a football player but as a person. You see the guy on TV every week, and they’re talking about a Heisman and the best since Lawrence Taylor, and he’s just right there in front of you. But I’ve gone against really good players, so it was honestly just me having fun.
Clemson OL Tremayne Anchrum: The hype is worse than the actual game. Going into it, I never felt like I was in a position where I was in trouble. We had a plan where we were going to chip him before he gets started because his takeoff is one of the more dangerous things he brings. All that moving so fast off the ball can be troubling. But we didn’t really chip as much once we got into the swing of things and got comfortable.
Ferguson: At first, I wasn’t even going against Chase; I was on the right side. He was going against our left tackle, but he wasn’t doing too well, so they moved me to left tackle in the middle of the game. That’s when I started going against him and we started bringing a running back out to chip him, and we had our tight ends lined up to chip him before going out on their routes. That really seemed to help, but he was still productive in that game.
Limegrover: He got a sack against us where our tackle never even had a chance. We were down on the 7-yard line, we were in the horseshoe area of the stadium, the place was just insane. You can see it, ball’s snapped, he’s two steps going and our tackle’s just starting to take his first step.
Nebraska offensive line coach Greg Austin: Before our game, he was always over the left tackle, so we felt, “OK, let’s work on some chips, let’s work on some protections where the tight end is releasing through the defensive end on his route.” Sure enough, it was apparent to us when we got in passing situations, they moved him over to the right side, to our right tackle, and Matt Farniok is not as good a pass-protector.
Allen: We left that game saying that’s the best Ohio State team we’ve played since I’ve been at Indiana. That team will probably be in the final four. That’s how I felt after we played them in the beginning of the season.
Final impressions: ‘I’m so glad his ass left early’
Anderson: When you combine speed and length together, you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. It’s a combination of the two. He has got an array of moves in his toolbox, but he’s going to get some coaches at the next level that are going to put more tools in his toolbox. He’s so talented and gifted athletically that he was able to get away with just beat stuff, an up-and-under and a spin move.
Limegrover: That kid doesn’t jump offsides. He’s got tremendous discipline as far as, “I want to get the best jump possible,” but he doesn’t get fooled easily. When I work individually, I had guys lining up offsides. You’re not going to have the time and space that you’ll have at home because that kid is good enough, and he’s long, and he can get on you in such a hurry. It kind of unnerves you as a tackle.
Fickell: I’m not saying he’s Jadeveon Clowney. You’re thinking of people who have length like that, who sometimes go to different places that use him in different ways, and then you take guys like the two Bosas who went to a place that doesn’t try to overdo it with them, but basically say, “We’re a four-man front. We’re putting your hand down. We’re letting you be on [the] edge and we’re letting you go.” He’s closer to the Jadeveon in the sense of, “He could do this, he could do that.” And sometimes I don’t know that completely gets what they do best on film all the time.
Austin: This year, the jump that he made — and when I say the jump, I’m not saying he was a bad player [in 2018] and he just jumped on the scene this year, but he was not the player [two years ago that] he was this year.
Rudolph: We didn’t really go against him the year before, and then this year, what you saw, there was an explosiveness in his lower body that allowed him to get to that spot up the field, still maintaining that forward pitch and lean. That was different. You just don’t see that out of guys. There was a power there.
DeBoer: Every single week, you look at a defense and figure out: Who are the guys we’ve got to be aware of? Who’s the pass-rusher? Who’s a guy you can’t, matchup-wise, throw the ball against from a corner or safety standpoint? He’s one of those elite players, one of the guys who affects the game as much as anyone I’ve ever seen.
Ferguson: He doesn’t show much emotion. Even my running back, Mike Warren, he was talking to him the whole game and all Chase did was give him a little smirk. He’s a hell of a football player. He’s going to make some NFL team happy.
Higby: I noticed he has one move he has perfected. As a tackle, you have to be perfect in your technique to even have a chance, and if you don’t, he’s going to beat you every time. It’s like a double hand swipe, he has the steps down, the hands down, he has everything about it perfect, so it works really well for him.
Allen: We all figured he was going to declare, but when he did, we threw a little party. I hope they don’t have any more like him coming, because woo!
Austin: I’m so glad his ass left early.
ESPN’s David M. Hale contributed to this story.
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