COLUMBUS, Ohio — The signs were there in training camp, and Ohio State started adjusting its expectations for Chase Young accordingly.
The reps went up in September. In the middle of the season, he was finding his way into the rotation in meaningful situations. And by the final snaps of the regular season, the freshman wasn’t just on the field for a crucial, rivalry-clinching drive — he was making plays to lock up The Game.
The Buckeyes obviously had high hopes for the freakishly athletic defensive end when they signed him to the Class of 2017. But with overflowing, ridiculous depth returning for the Rushmen unit, it would have been hard for any of the coaches to envision Young would provide so much, so soon at Ohio State.
“You know what, I didn’t even worry about how many snaps I would play,” Young said. “They always preach competitive excellence around here, be ready when your number is called. So whenever my number was called, it could be a tight game, maybe Sam [Hubbard] or Tyquan [Lewis] would be tired for a play, I’d have to go out for one play and then come out — stuff like that. Then when we would blow teams out, that would definitely give me a lot more reps, and that was good for me.
“But every time I go in, I don’t know when I’m going to get in, I don’t know how many reps I’m going to get. I just go full speed and I try to make plays.”
All those numbers across the board figure to go up dramatically in Young’s sophomore season, particularly when it comes to his workload.
Part of that is attributable to his own successful transformation from touted recruit to consistent college defender, finishing his freshman regular season with 5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a handful of crunch-time reps. The other significant factor, of course, is how much of that loaded depth chart on the defensive line is heading to the next level.
Lewis and Jalyn Holmes are graduating. Hubbard is almost certainly going to be foregoing the rest of his eligibility. There’s a chance that Dre’Mont Jones could follow suit and declare for the NFL draft as well, which could impact position coach Larry Johnson’s ability to rotate as many elite pass rushers as he’d like to ideally.
The Buckeyes still will have the services of the reigning Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year, and nobody is going to feel sorry for a defensive line that has Nick Bosa around for another season. Jonathon Cooper also appears to be blossoming into a valuable contributor up front, so the cupboards certainly aren’t bare.
But it’s the promising partnership and the possibility of Young and Bosa getting a sizable increase in playing time that suggests opposing quarterbacks are still going to be under frequent pressure against Ohio State next season. And all of those Buckeyes heading to the next level? Even they only had limited success keeping Young on the sideline early in his career.
“I was a little surprised just because of the depth, but I wasn’t surprised once I saw him play that he was given those opportunities,” Hubbard said. “He was my roommate during camp, and he came here mentally tough and handled camp better than most freshmen did. … I think he’s a great player.
“He’s got great potential, great skill and Coach Johnson wanted to get him a few valuable reps to hold [on] to in this offseason to get him confidence for next year. I mean, he played in some of the biggest moments of the year. And speaking from experience, once you have those in your back pocket, you’re only going up from there.”
Young may well start his second season at a higher level than could have been reasonably expected at this time a year ago, which is only going to ramp up the hype for just what he could become over the next couple seasons for Ohio State.
But by this point, the surprise should have worn off. Young has already proved he belongs on that vaunted defensive line, and it’s only going to be more difficult to get him off the field down the road.
“I think the way I came along with the game was just with my brothers [helping],” Young said. “Jalyn Holmes, Sam, Nick, Tyquan, coach Johnson. Every day, they would push me. I would be mad sometimes after practice, but coach Johnson would stay on me and keep pushing me.
“I think that’s how I adapted.”
That process clearly didn’t take long.
Now the signs for an even brighter future are unmistakable.