Chase Young, no longer Wearing a Brace, Wants to ‘Bounce back’ this year

Washington Post photo by John McDonnell
Commanders defensive end Chase Young shed the bulky knee brace he had been wearing during his recovery from a torn ACL and ruptured patellar tendon.

Chase Young isn’t one for expectations or comparisons, so if you ask him whether he feels like the player he was in 2020, when he was the NFL’s defensive rookie of the year, just know he will quickly dodge the question.

“I feel myself,” he said Thursday. “I feel well. I’m where my feet are at, and I feel good.”

For the first time since his injury, Young really does look like himself again on the Commanders’ practice field. After he missed 22 games between the 2021 and 2022 seasons while recovering from a torn ACL and ruptured patellar tendon, Young is playing without a knee brace and without hesitation. Although the Commanders have yet to put on pads in training camp – the first padded workout is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday – Young is noticeably different. He is showing confidence that was missing late last season, when he returned for the final three games.

“Just know that I feel good and I’m running around and I’m feeling explosive again,” he said.

And it has come at an opportune time. All of Washington’s defensive ends are set to become free agents next year.

The Commanders already gave sizable contracts to defensive tackles Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne, and they may be hard-pressed to keep both Young and fellow end Montez Sweat. (Allen and Payne have a collective cap charge of roughly $43 million in 2024.)

Young and Sweat have been close since Young was drafted in 2020, and they spent much of this summer training together, including a few days in Columbus, Ohio, where they worked with Ohio State associate head coach and defensive line coach Larry Johnson.

” ‘Mr. Miyagi’ is what we call him,” Young said. “… That’s who I think made me who I am today, in terms of a man and player. I just had to go back and fine-tune the little things, the small things, and it was good.”

Johnson said the session began with film study, so they could review their play and pick out small things to improve. Then they focused on the basics, such as their pass-rushing stance, their get-off from the line of scrimmage and their hand placement.

“Those are the areas we worked on: feet, hands and hips,” Johnson said. “It’s what it’s all about. When [Young] finished working out, I grabbed him and said: ‘Boy, you look really good. You wouldn’t have thought that you had knee surgery.’ “

Young also returned to Colorado Springs, where he spent much of last summer recovering, for part of this summer. There, he built up strength in his leg and elsewhere; he said this month at his youth sports camp in D.C. that he weighs 272 pounds, up from his listed weight of 264.

The improved health Johnson noticed this summer was obvious in Ashburn, too.

“He’s light-years ahead of where he was last training camp,” Commanders Coach Ron Rivera said. “I think 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.”

As Young inched closer to his return last season, Rivera stressed that Young needed to be able to plant his injured leg and move with ease and confidence. Rivera also stressed the need for Young to eliminate a stutter-step that slowed his pass rushes in 2021 and kept him from playing with his usual power – the power that helped him to 16.5 sacks his junior season at Ohio State.

“I said: ‘You know, this is the thing about it: When you come back, you’re never the same guy initially. You’ve got to work your way back into it,’ ” Rivera said in January of his discussions with Young. “And [orthopedist James] Andrews told him that you’re not going to be that guy right off the bat. It’s going to come in time.”

Young said he heard the same from Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and Buffalo Bills linebacker Von Miller, veteran players he trained alongside for a brief period in the offseason. Beckham and Miller have suffered two ACL tears in their careers, among other injuries.

“The big thing is they said: ‘We just bounce back. That’s just what we do,’ ” Young said. “That’s my plan, and I guess y’all just going to see what happens.”

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A new role for Donaldson

After three seasons leading Washington’s content and media team, former senior vice president Julie Donaldson will transition to a new role this season. Following the expiration of her contract, she signed a new deal that runs through the season and includes game-day broadcasts and emceeing team and community events. She will no longer appear on the team’s web and television shows.

The team hired Donaldson in 2020, shortly after The Washington Post detailed a culture of pervasive sexual harassment and bullying in the team’s workplace. She became the highest-ranking woman with the team, then as vice president of media, and was believed to be the first woman to hold a full-time position in an NFL team’s radio booth.

Donaldson said at the time that team officials, including owner Daniel Snyder, assured her she would be allowed to make decisions about the broadcast operations and address the culture of the franchise. Over the past three years, Donaldson helped re-create Washington’s content and media staff and was a prominent liaison to fans.

“My number one priority was making sure fans were heard and that we delivered content that was entertaining for them,” Donaldson told The Post. “Each and every year we look to get better, and that remains a goal of mine.”

A person with knowledge of the team’s media and content plans said it is altering the format of its shows, in part because of the end of the team’s partnership with NBC Sports Washington, which Monumental Sports & Entertainment acquired last year. That person added that changes to the content and media staff were in the works well before Josh Harris and his investment group purchased the team last week.

“I’m proud of our group and the work we did, and I’m looking forward to still remaining a part of the team on the biggest day of the week, which is game day,” Donaldson said. “I have a lot of ambitions that I haven’t been able to focus on, and I’m excited to finally take those on.”