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After a neck injury, CB Tavon Young is turning heads again at Ravens training camp

There aren’t many cornerbacks who can stay step-for-step with Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. There are fewer still who can stay step-for-step with the Ravens wide receiver just one play after they’ve drawn an offensive-pass-interference penalty on him.

But such are the talents of cornerback Tavon Young, who almost never gets picked on during Ravens training camp and almost always gets the last word when he does. Young hasn’t played in a game in well over a year, not even preseason, and he might be the defender who’s looked the most game-ready.

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Late in practice Tuesday, almost 10 months after neck surgery, Young shadowed Brown in 11-on-11 action over the middle, getting the speedy receiver to get a little pushy. Then he all but ran Brown’s corner route for him, leaving quarterback Lamar Jackson with no choice but to overthrow them.

“It looks to me like he picked up right where he left off before,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Tuesday during a video conference call. “He’s really trained hard. You can see that. He’s moving great. He’s a very good football player. He’s playing very well, so I can’t wait to see him play this year. I’m excited for his season. He’s a special kind of guy.”

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Young was just this impressive a year ago, but he didn’t last long into August before a neck injury sidelined him. He doesn’t know how it happened. All Young could recall Tuesday was the agony accumulating until, one day, he started to put on his helmet and the pain was too much to bear. He told the Ravens’ athletic training staff, and his season was over. He underwent surgery in October.

There were no setbacks in his recovery, and Young has embraced the sport’s physicality with the short-term memory that a 5-foot-9, 185-pound nickel back needs. Did he ever worry about sticking his neck in there on tackle attempts? He smiled. “Nah, man,” he said. The notion had bounced around in his head a little bit, “but once I stepped on the grass, it was like, ‘It is what it is, man. Let’s go. Let’s do what we do.’”

He will do a lot for the Ravens in the slot. After tearing his ACL in 2017, Young bounced back the following year to recover three fumbles, score two defensive touchdowns, post two sacks and record one interception. In camp this month, he has grappled with smaller wide receivers like Brown and rookie James Proche and imposing tight ends like Mark Andrews. That flexibility has allowed All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey to return to his more natural outside role.

“During the season, I’m going to face all types of receivers playing in the nickel spot: tight ends, big receivers sometimes, slow receivers, fast receivers, receivers good with their hands,” Young said. “So going against Mark Andrews, he’s one of the best tight ends in the league, I feel like, and me and him, we go at it. We always chat it up. And Marquise, you already know he has that super speed, something that’s always good to go against. ... And we compete. That’s what we do here.”

It’s what he loves to do the most, he said. After signing a three-year, $25.8 million contract extension with the Ravens in February 2019, Young could do little else during the season but watch. It heartened him to see the Ravens succeed — “As long as my guys were shining, it kept a smile on my face” — and he traveled to as many home games as he could.

But he wanted to be out there on the field. Now that he is, he said, “I’m just ready to go.”

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