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Washington's D-Line gets closer to full strength

Jonathan Allen celebrates a play with Daron Payne during the Washington Football Team's game against the Dallas Cowboys. (Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)
Jonathan Allen celebrates a play with Daron Payne during the Washington Football Team's game against the Dallas Cowboys. (Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)

The Washington Football Team received some positive news over the weekend as it prepares for its second straight division matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Jonathan Allen, James Smith-Williams, Casey Toohill and Montez Sweat were all activated from the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Saturday, bolstering a defensive line that was in need of reinforcements. Sweat, still technically on Injured Reserve, was also designated to return to practice.

With playoff hopes on the line for the Tuesday night matchup, getting a core piece of the team's defense closer to full strength is a much-needed boost.

"Very steady. I mean, very steady players," said head coach Ron Rivera. "And I've said, they're blue collar type guys that get the job done. They may not look pretty, but what they do look is very steady."

With Smith-Williams and Toohill, Washington is regaining two rotational defensive ends who have been played starting roles with Chase Young out for the year and Sweat missing the last five games with a jaw injury and being on the COVID-19 list.

Toohill played in 72% of the defensive snaps over the course of his last three starts -- he was placed on the COVID-19 list before the game against the Dallas Cowboys -- and recorded three quarterback hits in that span. Smith-Williams, who Rivera viewed as a player ready to take another step in his development before the season, grabbed a career-high six tackles against the Seattle Seahawks as a starter in addition to assisting a sack on Russell Wilson.

"They do the dirty work and they're not flashy as much as they're technically sound," Rivera said Nov. 17. "They do their jobs. They use their techniques to the best of their abilities."

With the Eagles being one of the best in terms of sacks allowed this year, it will be a benefit for Washington to potentially have both of its top pass-rushers back on the field. Allen, who leads the team with 7.5 sacks, is a guarantee to be back in the lineup. And given that quarterback Jalen Hurts, who has been a full participant for the Eagles since last Friday, has the second-most rushing yards among quarterbacks, his ability to crash the middle of the pocket will certainly be needed.

Sweat, while being activated off the COVID-19 list, is still not cleared to return from Injured Reserve just yet. Per league rules, Washington has 21 days from Saturday to decide on whether to add him back to the active roster or return him to Injured Reserve. However, there have been encouraging signs for Sweat since returning to practice. Allen said Sweat was excited, playing fast and happy to be back with his teammates.

When asked about the impact Sweat could have for the defense, Rivera answered "a lot."

"It was evident today in watching him move around that he kept himself in pretty good shape," Rivera said Dec. 18. "He handled practice very well. He really did. So, it's exciting to watch him run around and being Montez again. It'll spill over to the guys around him, I believe because he's a high energy, high impact guy."

The quartet of defensive linemen were some of the first of what Washington hopes will be more players activated before kickoff on Tuesday night. For Rivera, one of the top priorities will be to get them "reintegrated into what we're doing."

"We don't wanna wear them down. At the same time, we wanna make sure we're getting the timing down and all that stuff."

While it's unclear at this point how the rotation will shake out, it's a fact that having its defensive line closer to being whole again will be helpful for Washington in a game that has vital playoff implications. Washington (6-7) currently has the No. 7 seed, but the Eagles (6-7) could claim that for themselves with a win.

Having a more complete defensive front should give Washington another weapon to stave off an Eagles team that has two weeks of rest.

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