Top rookie L.J. Collier carted off field injured in latest problem for Seahawks’ pass rush

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L.J. Collier

The Seahawks’ pass-rush issues--and run of misfortune with highly drafted defensive ends--continues.

At least for now.

L.J. Collier left early during the fifth practice of training camp Tuesday in pain and seated on the back of a motorized cart. That was after the rookie first-round draft choice went to the ground grabbing his lower leg near the ankle and foot behind Russell Wilson’s throw deep in the offense’s backfield during an 11-on-11, full-pads scrimmage.

A Seahawks spokesman said the team was not likely to have an update on the defensive end’s injury and medical status Tuesday. The players are off from practice Wednesday.

Two national reports from writers who are about as far away from Seahawks headquarters as you can be and still be in the country say it’s a high-ankle sprain and Collier is expected to miss the entire preseason. He was on the second-team defense, developing behind current starting ends Cassius Marsh and Branden Jackson. Coaches were stressing footwork and hand technique with Collier, while still waiting top pass rusher Ziggy Ansah to practice for his new team coming off shoulder surgery.

High-ankle sprains, ligament damage higher up the leg above the ankle than a garden-variety sprain of that joint, can last for weeks (Germain Ifedi, three games in 2016) or months. Or an entire season, in the case of rookie offensive tackle Jamarco Jones last year. Jones had surgery for it last August and went on injured reserve. He is back fully practicing as Seattle’s second-team left tackle this month.

In the meantime, Collier will be getting examinations and tests to determine the severity of what appeared to be a lower-leg injury.

Fans among the couple thousand admitted daily to training camp gasped and shouted “Oh, no!” at the sight of Seattle’s top rookie and last season’s pass-rushing menace at TCU on the grass rolling on his back in pain. After a couple minutes on the ground behind the scrimmaging that continued without him, Collier limped to the sideline.

The scene did not look good. General manager John Schneider stopped watching practice and walked over to Collier and the trainers attending to the seated rookie. Eventually, the cart arrived to take Collier into team headquarters for evaluation.

The injury occurred with about 20 minutes remaining in the late-morning practice.

“He looked like he was in a lot of pain,” said Seahawks left tackle Duane Brown, who said he was on the opposite side of Collier when the rookie went down.

“I’m hoping he’s all right. ...

“Injuries happen in this game. It happens.”

Especially to top Seahawks draft picks. And rookie defensive ends.

Running back Rashaad Penny, Seattle’s top choice last year, broke his finger during his first training camp. He needed surgery and was out into September, derailing the start of his career. Ifedi, the team’s first pick in 2016, had a high-ankle sprain in his rookie summer. The offensive lineman got hurt in practice Sept. 7, then missed the first three weeks.

Then, of course, there’s Malik McDowell.

Part of the reason Seattle went defensive end this spring with their first pick for the second time in three years is because of McDowell. The Seahawks’ top pick in 2017 never practiced for the team beyond a first rookie minicamp, let alone played in a game. McDowell sustained career-stalling, if not ending, head and other injuries in a mysterious ATV accident believed to be in his home state of Michigan in the summer of 2017, weeks after he signed his rookie contract.

The Seahawks released him in March, then sued him in an effort to get back some of his signing-bonus money for services never rendered. Now McDowell is out of football, having never played a game in the NFL, and in a series of legal problems back in Michigan.

The Seahawks will just take a positive word about Collier and his leg before the weekend.

Or season.

For all Wilson’s magic to make plays in the passing game, despite how well Chris Carson and Penny run the ball again this season behind an offensive line that created the league’s top rushing game of 2018, this is a passer-and-sack-the-passer league.

Seattle has the passer.

But the sack-the-passers?

The team traded top sack man Frank Clark this offseason, to Kansas City. The Seahawks decided they wouldn’t pay him $20 million per year. Now the Kansas City Chiefs are paying Clark that ($105.5 million for five years), and Seattle netted a first- and a second-round draft choice.

The Seahawks are using that nearly $20 million per year saved by trading Clark in a new, three-year, $54 million contract All-Pro middle linebacker Bobby Wagner signed last weekend.

Clark’s exit and Jarran Reed’s six-game suspension leave the Seahawks with this on their 90-man preseason roster at outside and inside pass rushers on the defensive front:

Ansah: Signed from Detroit this offseason for one year with $5.5 million guaranteed, the 30-year-old has 48 career sacks in six NFL seasons, all with the Lions. But the Seahawks don’t know when he is going to get on the field for them following shoulder surgery. It could be late August, or later. Ansah hasn’t played 500 or more snaps in a full season (31 snaps per game) since 2015, his breakout Pro Bowl year with Detroit.

Marsh: He signed back this offseason, after Seattle’s middle-round draft choice in 2014 played for New England and, the last two seasons, San Francisco. The most sacks Marsh has had in any season: 5 1/2, last year.

Jackson: A part-timer with 1 1/2 sacks for two teams in three NFL seasons. He and Marsh were the starting defensive ends again Tuesday, as they were in Seattle’s offseason minicamp and organized team activities.

Jacob Martin: The team’s sixth-round pick in 2018 was an encouraging pass rusher in limited roles that increased as his rookie season went on last year. He had three sacks in a role that he will get a chance to expand greatly. He has shown the speed Seattle lacks off the edge, but remains unproven.

Rasheem Green: Seattle drafted the USC defensive tackle-end in the third round last yearenvisioning him as an inside-outside pass-rushing end somewhat like Michael Bennett was in his Pro Bowl years for the Seahawks. But Green had just one sack in 10 games as a rookie. It’s time for Green to show more.

Nazair Jones: Last season the Seahawks’ third-round pick from 2017 got snaps over undrafted rookie Poona Ford at defensive tackle when Seattle played passing teams. Ford got more of the plays when the Seahawks played running teams. Coaches like the 6-foot-5 Jones batting passes at the line of scrimmage. Reed’s suspension opens a big chance for Jones to win a larger role in 2019. But Jones missed practice Tuesday with an undisclosed issue.

Quinton Jefferson: The Seahawks’ fifth-round pick in 2016 had good pressure numbers and three sacks in limited playing time last season. He had one sack in his first two NFL seasons before that.

Al Woods: A 32-year-old run-stopping defensive tackle. He has 4 1/2 sacks in nine NFL seasons.

Earl Mitchell: Has 6 1/2 sacks in nine NFL seasons. He has one sack in his last four seasons, 31 games in 2018 and ‘17 with San Francisco and 21 games during 2015 and ‘16 with Miami. His first four years in the league were with Houston.

Poona Ford: Last season’s undrafted rookie is a run-stopping more than pass-rushing defensive tackle. He had zero sacks in 11 games for the Seahawks last year.

Jamie Meder: Another run-stopping, gap-clogging defensive tackle the Seahawks signed to improve upon allowing 4.9 yards per rush last season, the worst of the Pete Carroll coaching era. Meder has two sacks in three NFL seasons.

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