The Washington Commanders are inching closer to the start of training camp and a critical year for the franchise.
We're about a month away from the players and reporting to Ashburn after taking some time off. There were high expectations for the team in 2022, and while there were some positives, including a 6-1 stretch to get in playoff contention, it fell short of its goal with an 8-8-1 record. Now, with a new quarterback and offensive coordinator leading the offense, the expectations have continued to rise all offseason.
Commanders.com will be breaking down each position and how they've changed in the past year. After starting off with the running backs, we're moving on to the defensive line.
- Daniel Wise
- K.J. Henry
- Andre Jones
Chase Young looking healthy ahead of Year 4: Chase Young was noticeably absent during the voluntary portion of the offseason, but he did report to Ashburn to mandatory minicamp to show how much work he had put into making his knee is healthy for his fourth season.
What he showed during individual and 11-on-11 drills was enough to put some of the concerns to rest.
"He looked good. He really did," said head coach Ron Rivera. "Real excited about it. Looks like he's got some explosion back, which was one of the really neat things in terms of watching him, his get off. He looks like he's more confident."
Rivera said that Young would "absolutely" be part of the starting lineup now that he was back on the field, and sure enough, he was there alongside Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Montez Sweat for the blitz period of practice.
Young flaunted the same speed and quickness that fans have come to expect from him, but his confidence was what stood out the most. That was one of the main sticking points behind him taking so long to be back out on the field last season. None of those reservations were present during plays, as he rushed into offensive linemen and matched up against Charles Leno.
Young looked motivated to show that he is still the same player that won Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2020. If that version of Young shows up, it'll make a group that was already good into a great one.
Phidarian Mathis returns to the roster: It's been about eight months since Phidarian Mathis suffered his season ending injury in Week 1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He made his return to the rotation in OTAs, and there was no hint of any issues with his knee.
"He's just excited to get back and be with the guys," Allen said. "When you get hurt as a young guy, the biggest thing you realize is you miss doing the little stuff. You miss stretching with the team, you miss working out with the team. All the things that a lot of guys complain about, you miss it when it's not there. So, he's ready to work, and he's gonna be great for us this year."
There wasn't much of a "ramp up" period for Mathis, which can occasionally happen with players coming back from injury. He was thrown in with the second group of defensive tackles -- the same role he had before his injury -- during 11-on-11 drills, and there was no hint of irritation with his knee.
The knee's feeling good, Mathis said, and he's psyched to be back on the field with his teammates.
"Watching the games and seeing them having fun, knowing you're not a part of that, that really did hurt a lot, man," Mathis said. "Now to be back and just to be a part of it, it just feels good to be part of a good team."
Mathis looked impressive in training camp during his rookie year, so the fact that he is fully healthy is an exciting development for the defense.
More depth at defensive end: Having Young back is certainly a benefit for the Commanders' defensive line, but there's even more help coming for the front to rush the passer in the form of rookies K.J Henry and Andre Jones.
Henry (6-foot-4, 294 pounds) was the No. 6 player in the country, according to ESPN, the No.3 defensive end and the No. 2 overall high school player in North Carolina. A five-year contributor for the Tigers, Henry played in 58 games with 122 tackles, 13.5 sacks and 28 tackles for a loss.
Henry is disruptive, a former team captain and uses his speed to blow by offensive tackles and will provide quality depth to the Commanders' defensive line. In addition to his 4.63 40-yard dash, he also recorded a 31.5-inch vertical and a 9-foot-4 broad jump.
Jones (6-foot-4, 248 pounds) got a lot of valuable experience during his six years with the Ragin' Cajuns. In 2019, he started nine of 14 appearances (42 tackles, seven for loss with two sacks) and followed that up in 2020 by starting all of the team's contests in a COVID-shortened, 11-game season (43 tackles, 3.5 for loss with two sacks). In his redshirt junior season, he earned a Third Team all-conference nod for posting 60 tackles, 9.5 for loss with six sacks, four pass break ups and two fumbles forced and recovered. In his final season in Lafayette, he recorded 51 tackles, 8.5 for loss including 7.5 sacks, in 12 starts on his way to being named a second-team pick.
Neither pick will be heavily featured in the rotation with players like James Smith-Williams, Casey Toohill and Efe Obada ahead of them, but if they can take advantage of their limited snaps, plus create a role on special teams, they could bolster Washington's already talented group of defensive ends.