After tearing his ACL last season, Ravens cornerback Tavon Young misses the little things about practice. Walking through the doors of the team’s training facility, touching the grass on the field and being with his teammates.
Young has only played two games over the past two seasons because of injuries. Though the Ravens and Young are taking things slow, he feels fully healthy and ready to contribute to a strong secondary.
“It’s always good to get back on the field,” said Young, who was drafted 104th overall in 2016. “I still feel fast. I’m running with everybody. I don’t feel behind. I’m just doing what I do.”
Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale said Young’s return to the field is a testament to how tough the 2016 fourth-round pick is. When Martindale watches Young, he said the cornerback doesn’t appear to have skipped a beat.
“It’s amazing how far he’s come back from all the different injuries, and they’re freak injuries,” the longtime defensive coach said. “It’s one of the toughest things to do as a player — is to sit there and rehab while your teammates are playing. And he’s done that, and he’s ready to go.”
Young missed the rest of the 2020 season after suffering his second ACL tear in his left knee during the Ravens’ victory over the Houston Texans in Week 2. In 2017, Young suffered the same injury during OTAs, missing the entire season.
Young played in 15 games during the 2018 season, recording 37 tackles, an interception and two fumble recoveries. After signing a three-year, $29 million contract extension, which made him the NFL’s highest paid nickel back at the time, Young suffered a neck injury during the preseason, causing him to miss the entire 2019 season.
As Young was rehabbing his knee, he had teammates, family and coaches in his ear, keeping him positive. Young would remind himself, “I know I’m tough, I know I can come back, I know I could be who I am.”
Young isn’t going to play scared despite his injury history.
“When I’m out there playing in the field, I don’t worry about nothing that’s going on down there,” said Young, referring to his knee. “I’m just playing ball, going full speed.”
Young played in 355 snaps in the slot in 2018, allowing 22 catches on 39 targets for 279 yards and two touchdowns while recording one interception. He made the transition to the nickel after spending his rookie season as an outside corner. Pro Football Focus gave Young an overall grade of 76.3 in 2016, which was higher than stars Jalen Ramsey and Xavien Howard.
Adding Young back into the fold gives the Ravens another versatile defensive back who can be an interchangeable part of the defense. Young’s 5-foot-9 frame is misleading, as he is a player who isn’t afraid to match up against slot receivers, take on tight ends or blitz the quarterback.
“When we’ve got [Young] out there, we can do so many different things,” safety Chuck Clark said. “He just brings a different element to us, being out there. His personality, his character, we love having him back.”
All-Pro corner Marlon Humphrey is excited to have Young return to the field to add another dimension to the secondary. With Young sidelined last season, Humphrey spent 42.9% of his snaps in the slot, according to PlayerProfiler. Humphrey allowed 40 catches on 63 targets for 407 yards and two touchdowns from the slot while quarterbacks had a 85.9 passer rating targeting him there.
Humphrey can now focus more on the outside, where he held opponents to a 58.3 passer rating while allowing 24 catches on 38 targets for 264 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, according to Sports Info Solutions.
“I filled in his spot at the nickel for the past two years,” Humphrey said. “I can move back outside, and me, ‘M.P.’ [Marcus Peters], Jimmy [Smith] and Tavon [Young] — that’s a pretty strong four. I know what he can do on the field, so him getting healthy, him being back out there, it’s great.”
Through seven days of training camp, Young has been active in team drills but limited during scrimmages. Martindale said Wednesday that Young is playing in spurts but will continue to grow with more reps.
Young’s goal is to play through the entire practice Friday.
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“As far as coming back from the knee injury, I think he’s right on schedule as well,” Martindale said. “I think preseason games will help him get back in game shape.”