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Chase Young returns to practice — and the Commanders’ defense rejoices

Commanders defensive end Chase Young said he is confident he can return to an elite level of play. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Late Wednesday morning, 353 days after he tore the ACL in his right knee, Washington Commanders star defensive end Chase Young returned to practice. As his fellow defensive linemen ran from stretches to individual drills, a group of them encircled Young and danced, celebrating his arrival.

In his first comments to reporters this season, Young said his rehab was neither slower nor faster than he expected — “I never really had a timeline” — and that he was confident he could return to an elite level of play.

“I felt real good,” he said. “I felt pretty springy. … Just feeling like a football player again.”

It’s “probably jumping the gun” to expect Young to play Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, Coach Ron Rivera said. It seems likelier that Young will return the week after, at the Philadelphia Eagles on “Monday Night Football,” though the team will monitor his progress over the next week and will not hesitate to slow him down if necessary. How careful the team has been during his return has sometimes frustrated Young, and when asked if whether he would like to play Sunday, the 23-year-old grinned.

“I ain’t going to go into that one,” Young said, adding, “I mean, I wanted to play in [Week 1].”

During the portion of practice open to the media, Young went through a handful of reps. He practiced firing off the line of scrimmage, batting down passes and defending the play-action pass. None of the players wore helmets or pads because, given the team’s recent physical games and the grind of a long season, Rivera decided Wednesday’s practice would be a “tone-it-down” day.

Still, Young said he took all the work he could find, including jumping in for scout-team reps. He laughed about facing left tackle Charles Leno Jr., whom he called “Leeeno.”

“He gave me some real good sets just to get back into it,” Young said. “I feel good. I felt like I was coming off the ball good, low. I’m going to take it day by day.”

Young’s teammates expressed excitement about his return.

“It was cool — really good seeing him with that jersey on,” safety Kam Curl said. “Ready to get that playmaker back on the field.”

“I’m excited to see him get back in the rotation with us,” defensive tackle Daron Payne said, adding, “It’s going to be fun.”

When asked what he thought of Commanders owner Daniel Snyder opening the door to a sale of the team, Young demurred.

“We really don’t pay attention a lot to the outside noise because we have so much stuff we have to do inside the facility to win games,” he said. “We stay on the task at hand, got the blinders on, and that’s really how we rocking there.”

Jackson arrives in Pittsburgh

In Pittsburgh, the Steelers introduced cornerback William Jackson III. Jackson told reporters he wasn’t surprised Washington traded him before Tuesday’s deadline because “it was a mutual agreement, so I was expecting for it to happen.”

“It was cool,” Jackson said of his time with Washington. “I enjoyed my time there. I have nothing but love for the guys. Things just didn’t work out.”

Rivera said signing Jackson to a three-year, $42 million deal in March 2021 failed because, when it evaluated him, the team thought Jackson, a man-to-man cornerback, could fit into its zone-heavy, “match” scheme.

“Some people felt that there would be an opportunity to take his skill set and use it to benefit us and to fit in what we do,” he said. “That’s really where we were wrong in terms of the evaluation.”

Asked how the team could avoid a similar mistake, Rivera said: “Once we talk about the skill set, we talk about, ‘Can that skill set be fit to what we do?’ Probably the biggest thing we learned from this is, ‘Hey, we made a mistake,’ and so instead of prolonging the mistake, halfway through the year, we decided to go another direction. ... We kind of like the idea of … fitting guys to what we do as opposed to just looking at that skill set and saying that’s it.”

Jackson said the Steelers’ man-to-man coverage scheme suits him better and that the back injury he said prevented him from practicing for three weeks in Washington is now “almost 100 percent.”

“I’m just ready to get on the field,” he said.

In Washington’s locker room, the defensive backs said they were sad to see a friend go but understood the NFL can be a ruthless business. Safety Bobby McCain — who, like Jackson, left the only organization he had known (the Miami Dolphins) to join Washington in 2021 — said Jackson is “good people, man. That’s my dog.”

“We all knew it was kind of coming, so it’s not like it’s a surprise or anything,” McCain added. “But I hit him up [Tuesday] and told him good luck. He’s a good player, and he’s going to continue to be a good player.”

Jackson’s two interceptions with Washington involved Curl. In the 2021 season opener, his first game with the team, Jackson made an athletic play to secure a pick right in front of Curl. And in Week 10 against Tampa Bay, Curl deflected a pass that Jackson caught.

“I’m going to miss my dog, Will-O,” Curl said, adding that the 30-year-old helped him with the nuances of finances and rehab as a young player. “We’re going to stay in touch. You hate to see a teammate go, but it’s a business.”