Chase Young felt 'springy' in return to practice, 2022 debut still uncertain

Young felt 'springy' in return, 2022 debut still uncertain originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

ASHBURN, Va. -- Chase Young couldn't hide his excitement.

During pre-practice stretching, the third-year pass rusher was dancing to the music blaring between exercises. He even hit the Griddy. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio approached Young and the two dapped up, both grinning from ear to hear. For the first time in nearly a year, Young was back practicing for the first time since suffering an ACL injury last November against Tampa Bay.

The Washington Commanders activated Young from the PUP list on Wednesday morning, clearing him to practice. The 23-year-old participated in individual drills during the media viewing portion and later told the media he took scout team reps, too. Head coach Ron Rivera said the team plans to ease the pass rusher back in, but Young said he felt "real good" after practice.

"I felt like I was part of the guys again," Young said. "I felt springy. Obviously, we didn't have pads on. Just getting back in motion, the pre-snap reads and things like that, just feeling like a football player again. It felt good."

Wednesday's session was a light one for the Commanders, as the club ditched pads and helmets for jerseys, shorts and beanies. But at one point during the workout, Young said he and Logan Thomas -- who also recovered from an ACL tear this offseason -- "turned up" during a specific rep against one another.

"I said, 'OK, that felt good. I might be able to turn up, for real,'" Young said, adding he didn't feel any limitations during practice. "It was really exciting for me just getting back to what I love to do."

Although the early returns are positive, Rivera called the possibility of Young suiting up this Sunday "probably jumping the gun." The head coach said Young looked "quick" and "spry" during practice but emphasized the team will follow the doctor's orders as to when the pass rusher will return to game action.

Young was asked about the chances of playing Sunday, too, and echoed a similar sentiment as his coach.

"All I know is I'm sticking to my plan. I felt good today," Young said, smiling. "It's always that next day, how my knee is going to feel, how it's going to recover. It's really just day-to-day. I wanted to play in the first game, s---."

Although it was just one practice, Young's return to work left a significant impact on a number of his teammates.

"Everybody knows the type of player he is," cornerback Kendall Fuller said. "Everybody knows the type of energy he has. Just something as little as that, having his energy back on the sideline and on the field, a guy that can do it all. It's definitely going to be big, definitely going to be fun seeing him back out there."

"To have him back on the field suiting up, it's going to be really exciting," quarterback Taylor Heinicke added. "Obviously, he's a great player and he brings that extra juice. We're all excited for him."

Even with Young sidelined, the Commanders' defensive line has been playing excellent football collectively.

Defensive tackles Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne have performed at an elite level all season, while pass rusher Montez Sweat has raised his level of play over the past four weeks. Efe Obada, James Smith-Williams and Casey Toohill have all filled in admirably in Young's absence, too.

"I'm proud of all of them," Young said. "Big Jon, big Payne, I'm screaming all day long on the sidelines for him. It's always good to see your brothers go do it."

But when Young is able to return to the field, there's no underestimating what kind of boost he can give to a defense that's already playing solid, well-rounded football.

"It's self-explanatory. You see what he does on the field," Payne said. "I'm excited to see him get back in the rotation with us. I know everyone is excited to see him back, so it's going to be fun."

It's not just Young's talent that will give the Commanders' defense a jolt, either.

"Not just his play, but the energy he brings and just his presence out there I feel like will give the defense a real big boost," safety Kam Curl said. "The full season he played, he was the Defensive Rookie of the Year. He's a real big difference maker."

Although Young's rehab and recovery are nearing the end, it wasn't always an easy climb back. Young said he did a lot of soul-searching during his time away from football and leaned on both his faith and his father throughout the process. He grew an appreciation for some of the little things in life, such as being able to jog and do things on his own.

Whether it's fair or not, expectations are going to be high for Young when he returns to the field. When the Commanders drafted Young second overall in 2020, the belief of many was the club added a generational talent. Young's rookie year backed up that claim, but the pass rusher was in the middle of a disappointing sophomore campaign before the injury occurred.

Now, after missing eight games and counting, fans are expecting Young to deliver when he returns. He's ready for the challenge.

"If you know me, you know what my expectations are going to be for myself. It's coming," Young said. "[There's] no pressure. I feel like I've been pressured most of my football career. I'm kind of to that point in my life where I tuned it all out. ... I don't even look at it really as a setback. I just look at it as a test from God. I'm coming back stronger. I ain't worried."