Commanders holding plan for Chase Young's return close to vest originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
ASHBURN, Va. — The biggest game of the Washington Commanders’ season takes place this Sunday night. Should Washington (7-5-1) knock off the New York Giants (7-5-1), their playoff chances jump to 91%, according to FiveThirtyEight. A loss to the Giants drops the Commanders’ postseason odds to 34%. Talk about high stakes.
Washington’s Week 15 game against the Giants could also mark the season debut of Chase Young, who has not played a snap in over 13 months after suffering a brutal knee injury last November. The 23-year-old returned to practice on Nov. 2 and was moved to the active roster nearly three weeks later, but has been inactive in each matchup since while he continues to rehab his knee.
Considering the magnitude of Sunday’s game, Young’s return to the lineup — should he play in Week 15 — could not come at a more opportune time. The Commanders’ postseason chances are on the line. A national audience is watching. And, the Commanders just had a late bye week, giving the pass rusher another week to heal up.
Yet, if the Commanders have made a decision on whether Young will play this Sunday or not, they’re keeping it close to the vest.
“Still taking it one day at a time,” Young told reporters Wednesday when asked if this week will be when he makes his season debut. “When I’m ready, I’ll be ready.”
Commanders head coach Ron Rivera sounded optimistic regarding Young’s status for this week, but he, too, was noncommittal about whether the pass rusher would make his first appearance this season on Sunday.
“He came in prepared ready to go and did pretty much the reps that we had set aside for him and moved around pretty good,” Rivera said.
Despite Rivera’s optimism, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio hinted that Young still has a couple of boxes to check off before he’s cleared to go.
“When we get the green light, we’ll go,” Del Rio said on Young’s status. “Until then, [he will] just keep working hard.”
None of Rivera, Del Rio, or Young would commit to the former No. 2 overall pick suiting up this week. Couple that with the fact that Young has yet to be a full participant in practice since returning, and it’s far from a guarantee Young does play against the Giants.
Young entered the Commanders’ last matchup two weeks ago as a game-time decision, but he ultimately was ruled inactive ahead of Washington’s Week 13 tie against New York. The pass rusher said Wednesday he felt it was the right decision to hold him out of that game due to the poor playing surface at MetLife Stadium.
“That wouldn’t be smart for anybody coming off an injury,” Young said. “[Turf] doesn’t give. A lot of people get hurt on turf. I think it was a real smart decision [to hold me out]. It would’ve had me super sore. I didn’t need all that.”
In recent weeks, Rivera has said multiple times that when Young does play, he’ll be on a strict pitch count of roughly 12-15 plays. The head coach understands that for a player of Young’s caliber, it only takes one play for him to truly impact the game. Still, Rivera continues to temper expectations for Young’s eventual return.
“You don’t want to throw him out there and overuse him,” Rivera said. “We most certainly [have] to be very wary of what the pitch count will be. And it’ll all be based on how he practices and in terms of his preparation, get himself ready to go. But also, there’s always that potential with him. He’s got the skillset, he’s got the ability, you know, now we just got to make sure he’s out there and ready to roll.”
There’s a reason Young was drafted second overall in 2020. The former Ohio State star has a rare blend of strength, speed and athleticism, especially at his position. At his best — and at full health — Young is a player that can transform a defense, evidenced by his play over the final month of his rookie season.
But if Young does end up taking the field on Sunday, his goal is simple: elevate a defense that’s already been playing excellent football as of late.
“We’re balling right now,” he said. “I’m just trying to add another spark to what we already have.”
A couple of weeks ago, Rivera said that part of the holdup for Young’s return is the mental side of his recovery. In order for the Commanders to feel comfortable putting Young out there, Rivera wanted to see the pass rusher have full confidence in driving off his bad leg. At that point, Young simply hadn’t showcased that.
With that being said, the Commanders are also in the final month of their season. Several players are banged up. Practices only happen a few times a week and very few, if any, of the sessions are in full pads this late into the year. Sure, Young can take as many reps in practice as there are to go around, but he truly won’t know how his leg responds until he puts it to the test in live-action. He understands that, too.
“The game, I pop out there, if I pop out there and you sub my out and I say, ‘I’m good,’ then it’s go time,” Young said. “It could happen. It just depends on how I feel.”
Having been sidelined for over a year, Young’s had plenty of time to think about what his eventual return will look and feel like. “I’ve been envisioning getting a sack. I’ve been envisioning getting in the backfield. I’ve been envisioning everything,” he said. Despite everything he’s been through over the past year-plus, his belief in himself has never wavered.
“I’m confident,” Young said. “I’m a confident guy. Nothing [is] going to ever break me down, regardless.”