Panthers fullback Darrel Young has been around the NFL for seven-plus seasons, and has seen some crazy things.
Young, who spent his first six seasons in Washington, remembers a teammate making the 53-man roster out of training camp, only to get cut an hour later when Washington claimed another player off waivers.
Young has watched guys buy homes or lease apartments, thinking their roster spot was safe, then find out there’s no sure thing in the NFL.
Related: Young has not bought a house or rented an apartment in Charlotte, nearly eight months after signing with the Panthers.
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“I’m still in the hotel,” Young said. “You just never know what’s going to happen.”
Young speaks from experience.
Last year at this time, Young was finishing what he thought was a strong preseason with Chicago. But the Bears cut him in favor of Paul Lasike, a New Zealand native who played rugby at BYU before switching to football.
Young returned to his home in the Washington area and took a job with Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic doing mostly behind-the-scenes work but also received some on-air opportunities.
“I liked it. It was different, a little slower than what I’m used to. And I missed the game,” Young said. “There’s nothing like waking up and smelling grass in the morning, knowing that you have to put the full pads on on a Wednesday.”
As NFL teams prepare for their final exhibitions this week, what’s also looming is massive roster cuts. With the NFL eliminating the initial round of cuts this year, teams will go from 90 players to the regular-season limit of 53 on Saturday.
More than 1,100 players will flood the market or be placed on injured reserve or another roster designation.
It might be a tedious week for veterans eager to get the regular season going, but it’s an anxious time for anyone uncertain of their roster fate.
But Young seemed at ease following Sunday’s practice on a beautiful afternoon in Charlotte. After spending last season out of football, the former Villanova linebacker feels like he’s put his best foot forward with the Panthers.
“Sometimes there’s a point where you get a feel, you know when it’s almost the end. And I didn’t get that feel last year. And I don’t have that feeling now,” Young said.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he added. “I’ve been in this business long enough to know that don’t worry about things you can’t control because then you stress yourself out.”
Young, 30, plays a position that some consider a dying breed in the NFL.
The Panthers have always kept at least one fullback on the roster under coach Ron Rivera, including Pro Bowler Mike Tolbert the past five seasons. And though the Panthers released Tolbert in February, they drafted fullback Alex Armah in the sixth round two months later and had acquired Young in January in a move that went mostly unnoticed.
“Fullback has always been part of this offense and what we do. So we’ve got to go through it,” Rivera said. “We’ve got two really good candidates and like them both. They’ve done a great job for us.”
Besides blocking and chipping in on special teams, Young excelled as a short-yardage specialist and pass-catcher with Washington. He combined for 13 touchdowns rushing and receiving in his six seasons there.
Rivera called Young an experienced player who knows the game.
“He gives you a little bit of what Mike Tolbert gave you,” Rivera said. “And that’s a guy that can not just play the fullback position, but (also) play the H-position, which is important ... because that guy will end up doing a lot of blocking as well.”
Armah’s NFL transition is a lot like Young’s – a former defensive player (linebacker and defensive end) from a small school (West Georgia) trying to make it as a fullback. Young was cut from Washington’s practice squad as a rookie in 2009 before re-signing with the team the following offseason.
Armah lacks Young’s polish, but has shown big-play flashes with a 20-yard touchdown reception at Tennessee and a 13-yard catch last week at Jacksonville.
Young has helped himself with a team-high three tackles on special teams.
“You’ve got to be versatile in the sense where you can do special teams,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to change from week to week, maybe front line on kickoff return and then next week might be back wedge just because of the personnel that they have.”
Speaking of personnel, there’s been speculation (including in this space) that the Panthers might not keep a fullback because of tight end Ed Dickson’s ability to play there. But Rivera said some of the Panthers’ personnel groupings call for a more traditional fullback role.
That would seem to be good news for Young or Armah. But at least in Armah’s case, he’s not taking anything for granted – and he’s not forking over a down payment or security deposit on a house or apartment yet, either.
“They haven’t said anything. I just show up everyday and when the fullback personnel goes in, I go in,” he said. “They don’t really give us an idea of anything, but who does? You never know. There’s always surprises.”