Commanders activate Chase Young; Ron Rivera praises team’s mind-set

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The Washington Commanders activated defensive end Chase Young from the physically unable to perform list Monday, ending his lengthy absence because of an ACL injury.

The news was expected, given the team’s Wednesday deadline to bring him back or place him on season-ending injured reserve. Coach Ron Rivera had insisted the team would indeed make the move before the deadline, but it’s a significant milestone nonetheless for the 2020 defensive rookie of the year.

Rivera made no guarantees about Young’s availability for Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons at FedEx Field, saying only that “we will work him with the intent of if he’s ready to play, he’ll play, and if he’s not, he’ll wait another week.”

When Young returns, he will be on a snap count to start, so as not to risk reinjury.

For the past three weeks, since designating him to return to practice, the Commanders have monitored Young and his comfort with his reconstructed right knee. They waited until nearly the end of the 21-day window to activate him not because of any medical issues but because of his football readiness, a determination Rivera and his assistants made.

“We want to see where he consistency cuts it loose,” Rivera said. “We want to make sure that he’s confident, there’s no hesitation, and that’s what we’re looking for in practice. He’s working hard, and he’s doing all the things we’re asking of him. That’s just one of the things that we got to work through for him.”

Young tore the ACL in his right knee in Week 10 last season and later underwent surgery. Young’s recovery has cost him 19 games so far.

Commanders’ defense is dancing, dusting, Double Dutch-ing and dominating

He rejoins a unit that has improved in nearly every facet since he last played. In 2021, Washington’s defense lagged in most major statistical categories, and Rivera criticized the line for a lack of cohesiveness and communication.

This year, Washington’s line has three players with at least six sacks — end Montez Sweat (six) and tackles Jonathan Allen (6.5) and Daron Payne (6.5) — and the defense ranks among the league’s top 10 in average yards allowed (308.0, sixth), average rushing yards allowed (103.1, sixth), defensive pressure rate (37.2 percent, third), opponent third-down conversion rate (32.9 percent, third) and average time of possession (27:16, first), according to Tru Media.

Adding Young back to the mix will be gradual.

“That’s also something that we have to be smart about, because … he didn’t go through training camp, he didn’t have OTAs and minicamps,” Rivera said. “And he’s only been doing football stuff for the [the last] 21 days, and … that’s only really nine practices he’s had. So we have to slowly integrate him into it, get him more acclimated to it, and when he’s ready to roll, give him an opportunity to gradually increase that number of plays.”

“We have a really good mixture of guys right now that are playing really well as a group,” Rivera added. “I know the last thing that anybody wants, especially Chase, is to come in and be disruptive.”

‘Excited about our potential’

Rivera seemed more chipper than ever in his video conference with reporters Monday — and for good reason. His team has won five of its past six games, his defense is consistently stifling opponents, and after naming Taylor Heinicke his starting quarterback, Rivera has noticed a change in his players.

“I’m excited about our potential — I really am,” the coach said. “When your guys respond the way that you hope that they would and come out and play the way they did and then sit there and say: ‘You know what? We could have been better’ — that means a lot.”

Rivera stressed to his players after their upset of Philadelphia in Week 10 that they had not “arrived” and couldn’t overlook the Texans, even though Houston was 1-7-1.

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His players listened and maintained their level of play in Houston. In the locker room afterward, Allen preached to his teammates that they needed to be better and that their struggles in the second half, when they allowed several chunk plays and 10 points, shouldn’t have happened.

Young isn’t the only player working his way back. Rivera said offensive lineman Wes Schweitzer has cleared concussion protocol. He will do some conditioning work with trainers on the side field this week, Rivera said.

Running back JD McKissic, placed on injured reserve last weekend, is undergoing treatment for a neck injury and will be reexamined in a few weeks, Rivera said.

Quarterback Carson Wentz is continuing to recover from the fractured finger he suffered in Week 6. Rivera said he planned to talk to head athletic trainer Al Bellamy later Monday to determine Wentz’s status. Once he’s designated to return, the Commanders will have 21 days to activate him and have him available as the backup or third-string quarterback.

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