Commanders DE Chase Young cleared to play Sunday against the Broncos

Commanders defensive end Chase Young has been medically cleared after suffering a stinger in the preseason and will make his season debut Sunday at the Denver Broncos, Coach Ron Rivera said Friday.

“Ready to rock,” Young said.

Young missed the Commanders’ season-opening win against the Arizona Cardinals because of the injury he suffered four plays into the team’s first preseason game at the Cleveland Browns.

Stingers occur when the nerves in the neck and shoulder are stretched or compressed after contact. Given the nature of the injury, Washington was cautious with his return.

“That’s why it took so long to get him back on the field,” Rivera said. “The doctors wanted to make sure — they wanted to be careful with it. And, again, they had probably in their minds what they felt he had to show them to have him play this week. We’re pretty excited about him being back out there.”

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Rivera declined to give a specific number but said Young will be on a snap count against the Broncos to ease him back without risking further injury.

“Obviously we have to be smart because it’s his first introduction to full contact — full-speed contact — other than what he had in practice this week,” Rivera said. “He had a very good week. The young man’s worked his tail off, and I think he’s done the things they’ve needed to see, so that’s incredibly positive for us moving forward.”

In late December, when Young returned from his major right knee injury for the Commanders’ Week 16 game at San Francisco, the team set a 12- to 16-snap limit. But he blew past it, looking strong over 30 snaps. Young said he wasn’t worried about a limit Sunday, describing his expectations for himself as, “Just to be the best Chase Young I can be.”

Young was cleared for contact in practice last week, giving the team’s medical and coaching staffs a chance to see how he responded to the increased workload ahead of Sunday’s game. He practiced on a limited basis Wednesday and was a full participant Thursday and Friday, though the team didn’t wear full pads either day.

The stinger delayed Young’s full return from the knee injury that cost him 22 games over the past two seasons. He ruptured his patellar tendon and tore his ACL in a win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 10 of the 2021 season.

Young said the setback didn’t frustrate him or give him extra stress over the last month.

“I was cool,” he said. “[If you] play football, you can’t really control if you get hurt. I wasn’t really tripping too bad. I knew my time was going to come again, so I just stayed focused and stayed consistent. Now we’re here.”

Young played a total of 115 defensive snaps in the final three games of 2022 after his return, steadily increasing his reps in each. His average of 38 snaps per game fell slightly below his average of 49 in 2020, when he was named the NFL’s defensive rookie of the year after being the No. 2 overall pick of that year’s draft.

It wasn’t until he returned for organized team activities in the spring that he appeared to regain his full strength and explosiveness. By the start of training camp, he had shed the large knee brace.

“He’s light-years ahead of where he was last training camp,” Rivera said in July. “That’s a big deal for us. … You see the get-off, first and foremost. Last year he was a little hesitant, a little tentative. … You see him moving around with a lot more confidence. You see him finishing as well.”

Young spent time in the offseason working with his former defensive line coach at Ohio State, Larry Johnson, and time training in Colorado Springs, where he rehabbed his knee injury. He arrived for camp weighing 272 pounds, up from his listed weight of 264, and said he felt “like myself.”

His return Sunday will restore a Washington starting front that features all first-round draft picks. It will also start a critical season for Young; the Commanders declined his fifth-year contract option, setting him up for free agency in March, along with fellow veteran end Montez Sweat.

“Well, for the team as a whole, we have to see how everything happens and how everything does go before you can really make decisions on a lot of other things like that,” Rivera said, when asked if he needed to see how both players performed this season before offering them new contracts. “I mean, again, it really is about how we do and how well everybody’s playing.”

Washington wanted Russell Wilson. Sam Howell wanted to play like him.

Rivera and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio have stressed the need for both players to finish their pass rushes and turn more of their quarterback pressures into sacks, much like defensive tackle Daron Payne did last season, when he had a career-high 11.5 sacks to land a new four-year, $90 million contract with the team.

Before suffering his knee injury in 2021, Young recorded a total of 1.5 sacks and pressured the quarterback on 8.7 percent of his pass-rushing snaps, according to TruMedia. His last full sack was against the New Orleans Saints on Oct. 10, 2021.

In Washington’s Week 1 win over the Cardinals, Montez Sweat totaled 1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles, spurring a defensive takeover that guided the Commanders to victory. Payne added a fumble recovery, and Jonathan Allen had a sack and three quarterback hits.

“We’ve added a couple new pieces to it, but we have a core that really understands what we’re looking for,” Del Rio said of his defense. “We should expect to play fast and play off each other and be impactful.”

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