Seattle Seahawks

Top rookie L.J. Collier returns to field for first time this month

TNT’s Gregg Bell on L.J. Collier’s return to the field, why Russell Wilson bought into the Sounders, more from Seahawks

The News Tribune’s Gregg Bell on rookie first-round draft choice L.J. Collier’s return to the field, why Russell Wilson bought into the Sounders, more from Seahawks two days before the third preseason game.
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The News Tribune’s Gregg Bell on rookie first-round draft choice L.J. Collier’s return to the field, why Russell Wilson bought into the Sounders, more from Seahawks two days before the third preseason game.

L.J. Collier is back on a field.

Normally, a rookie defensive end running conditioning sprints on a side field, as Collier did for the first time this month during a practice on Thursday, ranks in Seahawks importance behind whether they were in helmets and how many eagles were nesting above the lakeside practice field.

But with this team so needy for effective pass rushers, the first-round draft choice huffing and puffing to begin his return from a uniquely sprained foot and ankle is a bigger deal than usual.

Collier ran sets of sprints of about 30 yards or so with a team assistant. Meanwhile, the rest of the Seahawks practiced on another field two days before the third of four preseason games, Saturday at the Los Angeles Chargers.

It was the first on-field work for Collier since he got hurt in practice July 30.

Coach Pete Carroll has yet to estimate publicly when Collier will return to practice. Thursday’s work is a first, positive step toward him returning early in the regular season. That begins Sept. 8 with the opener at home against Cincinnati.

Carroll said Collier’s is the most frustrating of the Seahawks’ many injuries this summer. That includes to six of the team’s 11 rookie draft picks, and the top three: Collier, safety Marquise Blair (back spasms) and wide receiver DK Metcalf (knee surgery Tuesday).

“L.J., we are just going to have to wait it out. In that regard, L.J. is the one that’s frustrating because he hasn’t really had a shot to get going,” Carroll said Wednesday.

“We just talked about it today and he’s doing a lot of stuff. He’s up and moving and all that and AlterG (an anti-gravity treadmill) and all those kinds of things. Not quite ready to unload on it where he can run up on it and change direction.

“So, not quite (ready to return).”

But at least he’s now on a field. Even if it’s a side one.

Ziggy Ansah is still not practicing. The team’s top pass rusher and biggest offseason addition has yet to since the Seahawks signed the 2015 Pro Bowl defensive end in May to a one-year contract. Ansah, 30, is coming off a season-ending shoulder surgery last year with the Detroit Lions. He sustained a setback last week, a groin injury while trying to ramp up his conditioning.

Carroll has said it may be the entirety of August before Ansah gets on the field. But the team has been confident he can be ready for the start of the regular season.

Without Ansah, and with defensive tackle Jarran Reed (10 1/2 sacks last season) suspended for the first six games of the season after an alleged domestic-violence incident, the most accomplished pass rusher on the Seahawks’ 90-man preseason roster is Cassius Marsh. His 5 1/2 sacks last season for San Francisco are the most in any NFL season for any Seattle defensive player other than Ansah and Reed.

The defensive line has failed to generate pressure on quarterbacks in either of the team’s first two preseason games. Generally, the Seahawks’ only effective pass rushing has come from blitzes by linebackers and defensive backs. Coordinator Ken Norton Jr. has been trying to find guys who are effective blitzers, to perhaps be a part of a more creative defensive plan this season: sending back defenders to help out the needy front four.

So, yes, Collier’s progress to getting back in the defense—even his incremental steps—are worth watching.

Earlier this month, while announcing Collier’s injury as a type of “rare sprain” the Seahawks had never seen, Carroll said it would be “some weeks” before Collier would return to practicing. Carroll said Aug. 1 Collier had a bad sprain high in the foot near the ankle. Carroll said the defensive end from TCU was going to be out a while—and that, yes, the Seahawks are shopping for help on the defensive line to address concerns about their depth there.

Blair was in shoulder pads like his teammates but was not on the field participating in the 20 minutes or so the media was allowed to watch Thursday’s practice.

He was carted off the field Sunday night during the preseason game at MInnesota with back spasms.

Coach Pete Carroll details Seahawks’ preseason loss at Minnesota, including DK Metcalf needing surgery.

Gregg Bell is the Seahawks and NFL writer for The News Tribune. In January 2019 he was named the Washington state sportswriter of the year by the National Sports Media Association. He started covering the NFL in 2002 as the Oakland Raiders beat writer for The Sacramento Bee. The Ohio native began covering the Seahawks in their first Super Bowl season of 2005. In a prior life he graduated from West Point and served as a tactical intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, so he may ask you to drop and give him 10.
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