INDIANAPOLIS — Jon Runyan Jr. knew just by the sound. The Michigan Wolverines left tackle didn’t need to see the play to know his quarterback Shea Patterson had been demolished. He heard the hit, the slam and the gasp forced out of Patterson when he hit the ground.
Runyan, like so many tackles in college football the past three years, had been beaten by Ohio State defensive end Chase Young. And his teammate paid the price.
“I looked at Shea and apologized to him right there,” Runyan said.
Want to understand what it’s like to face Chase Young? First, realize the hours spent formulating a gameplan to try and neutralize one man. Think about how to counteract the explosive speed, the deceptive hands and the variety of pass rush moves that fuel one of the most dominant players in the nation. Grasp the guilt that immediately sets in when none of it works.
At the NFL scouting combine Thursday, the Maryland native — he played his high school ball at DeMatha Catholic — declared himself the best player in the upcoming draft. It didn’t feel like an exaggeration.
Last fall, Young intimidated opposing offenses, leading the NCAA with 16½ sacks despite missing two games for a suspension. He was the first defensive player to be named a finalist for the Heisman Trophy since 2012 — and just the third defensive player overall to do so. His history is why the 20-year-old is considered to be the obvious pick when the Washington Redskins select second overall in April’s draft.
Stopping him is no easy task.
“When he does beat you with speed, he’s going to burn you,” Runyan said.
“A specimen,” said Washington Huskies left tackle Trey Adams.
“If you watch the film, it looked like he was able to intimidate a lot of people pre-snap,” Michigan center Cesar Ruiz said. “It looked like some people were intimidated from the beginning.”
Speed is the most dramatic, inescapable element of Young’s game. It’s why many draft experts have hailed him as a “once-in-a-generation” prospect. Young, who told reporters Thursday that playing for the Redskins would be “a blessing,” said he won’t run the 40-yard dash this week at the combine. Nor does he plan to run next month at Ohio State’s pro day. So NFL teams won’t have an updated, official time to quantify how fast he is. But even on tape it’s clear his burst off the line is rare. It’s usually all he needs to win one-on-one matchups.
Young, too, has a remarkable feel for timing the snap count. In the 2019 Rose Bowl, the Huskies had to change cadences throughout the game to keep Young “on his toes,” Harris said.
Beyond that quickness, though, opposing linemen have learned how crafty Young is with his hands. Huskies center Nick Harris said Young’s hand placement is “very aggressive,” and adds a power element to his arsenal.
“Those type of guys, they stack their game with different nuances,” Harris said. “That’s something (Young) does very well.”
The blend of blazing speed and raw power forced offenses to tailor game plans around handling Young.
Michigan, for instance, started sliding protection toward Young wherever he was on the field. Ohio State was comfortable with moving Young around on the line. Then, when Ohio State adapted and forced Michigan to adjust, the Wolverines started chipping Young, using an extra blocker briefly to help slow the pass rusher.
The extra attention, at times, has been successful at limiting Young. In the final three games of the season — Michigan, Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game and Clemson in the Sugar Bowl — he went without a sack.
On Thursday, Young dismissed any concerns about his performance in those outings. Being the best defensive end, he said, isn’t about who has the most sacks; it’s about being the most disruptive player.
“If you know football, you would see that,” Young said. “You’ll see how they changed their whole offensive game plan for one guy. A lot of people might not know how to really study a tape or may not know how to watch football, but I made an impact in those games.”
Against Ohio State, the Wolverines lost in a 56-27 blowout.
“He’s a great physical player,” Runyan said. “Lot of respect for him. He’s going to do great things in the NFL.”
• Matthew Paras can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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