Seahawks’ 1st-round pick suffers high-ankle sprain

L.J. Collier was carted off the field Tuesday, but his injury was less severe than originally feared.

  • By Bob Condotta The Seattle Times
  • Tuesday, July 30, 2019 8:06pm
  • SportsSeahawks

By Bob Condotta

The Seattle Times

RENTON — The early reports that Seahawks first-round pick L.J. Collier suffered only a high-ankle sprain on Tuesday elicited at least a little, initial sigh of relief.

As Collier lay on the ground after the play ended, limped on his own to the sidelines and then — after a few minutes of being tended to by trainers — was carted off the field, the worst-case scenarios of a broken bone or significant injury to a knee seemed possible.

But high-ankle sprains, if not as dire-sounding as some injuries, are notoriously hard to predict.

Russell Wilson suffered a high-ankle sprain in Week 1 of the 2016 season and never missed a game. But he also was clearly hobbling in Week 2, then suffered a knee injury in Week 3, and many close to the team remain amazed he never missed more than one snap the whole year.

Germain Ifedi, Seattle’s first-round pick in 2016, suffered a high-ankle sprain the Wednesday before the first game and was back four weeks later, missing just three games.

But ankle sprains can also shelve players for a significant amount of time — rookie offensive tackle Jamarco Jones had surgery last year after suffering a high-ankle sprain and ended up going on injured reserve.

Regardless of exactly how severe, a high-ankle sprain of any sort means Collier is likely out for the preseason and will miss valuable practice time.

And it throws that much more uncertainty onto the team’s already question-riddled defensive line.

The Seahawks are already banking on Ziggy Ansah, who has yet to practice after shoulder surgery last year, getting up to speed quickly and being the team’s starting edge rusher. For now, Cassius Marsh is the starter there, with Jacob Martin and Barkevious Mingo also in the mix.

And they also are preparing to play the first six games of the season without their best interior defensive line player, tackle Jarran Reed.

Collier is playing the team’s five-technique end spot, or the other side from the edge rusher. That spot lines up on the strong side of the defense. Quinton Jefferson was the starter there last year, and if the season began today he’d likely still be the starter.

Rasheem Green, a third-round pick last year, also plays that spot, as does Branden Jackson. Jackson seemed on the bubble to make the roster, but if Collier is out any substantial time then he might suddenly be a key player.

Of course, if Collier’s injury is significant, the Seahawks will scour for available defensive ends.

That could mean signing any current free agents — not a great list but does include Kony Ealy and Robert Nkemdiche, a former first-round pick who was waived earlier this week by Arizona. Dion Jordan, who also played the five-technique end spot some last year for Seattle, remains a free agent but also has to serve a 10-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, reportedly for using Adderall.

Seattle could also dangle some of its picks from next year to make a trade, or wait to see who is waived in the cut down to 53. There is now only one cut-down day, following the final preseason game, which may not help the Seahawks. However, veterans are commonly released earlier in camp if a team knows they are not going to make the roster (as Seattle did last year with Jon Ryan). So maybe someone somewhere could fall into Seattle’s lap.

As for Collier, Tuesday’s practice — the first in full pads — marked the first chance for the Seahawks to get a really good read on where he is.

Veteran left tackle Duane Brown, asked about the play on which Collier was hurt, volunteered that Collier is “still kind of raw in his technique” but has lots of potential.

That seemed to be the growing conventional wisdom: Collier has a lot of ability and want-to but may need some time refining his skills to really be an impact player. He hadn’t gotten much time with the No. 1 defense, typically working with the second and third units, with Jefferson and Green typically working with the starters.

Of course, that means the worst thing that can happen for Collier is missing what is the best teaching and learning time of the year: training camp and preseason games. There isn’t a lot of time for that once the regular season begins.

It was hard to tell this early just how much the team was going to get from Collier this year right off the bat. For now, until there is clearer word from the team on a prognosis, the hope will be that Collier can get back early enough this season to be able to contribute at all.

Here are a few other quick impressions from Tuesday’s practice:

Pocic gets his shot with Iupati out

Collier wasn’t the only significant injury news of the day. Practice began with the sight of starting left guard Mike Iupati walking out with a boot on his left foot.

Coach Pete Carroll did not talk to the media Tuesday, so there was no immediate word on Iupati’s injury and severity. But obviously any injury to Iupati would be troublesome because he was signed to fill J.R. Sweezy’s role from last season. Iupati’s nine years of experience and vast familiarity with Seattle’s system led to the idea that he could step right in with no drop-off in play, and maybe even an uptick if all goes right.

Iupati, though, suffered a sprained foot in the offseason program and missed minicamp and now is out again (it’s unclear if the injuries are related.)

With Iupati out Tuesday, third-year player Ethan Pocic worked with the starting line at left guard. It’s a valuable chance for Pocic, a second-round pick in 2017, to make a case for making the roster again.

Pocic began last season as the starting left guard but suffered an injury, which coincided with D.J. Fluker’s return, and Seattle went with the Fluker and Sweezy guard combo for the rest of the year (when the two were healthy).

Pocic can also play center — Joey Hunt is the only other backup center at the moment — which also may go a long way toward keeping him on the roster.

Penny as the two-minute back?

Collier was injured near the end of practice while the team was working on its two-minute drill.

The most interesting aspect of that drill until then might have been that Rashaad Penny was the starting tailback with the No. 1 offense.

Penny is expected to rotate in with starting tailback Chris Carson in early down situations in some fashion, having so far ranked as one of the more impressive players in camp.

But using him as the two-minute back could be another way to get him on the field significantly.

That’s a role that was filled last year primarily by Mike Davis, who signed as a free agent with the Bears.

Seattle also has the likes of C.J. Prosise — who worked with the second unit during that same drill — rookie Travis Homer and J.D. McKissic to fill that role.

The Seahawks will almost certainly keep one or two of those three players — and maybe all three, depending on how the roster breaks down.

But Seattle also appears willing to use Penny there, as well, having talked about his receiving ability as a factor in taking him in the 2018 draft. He had 42 receptions in his final three seasons at San Diego State and also caught nine passes on 12 targets last year as a rookie including a 24-yarder against the Raiders.

Another big day for Metcalf

It may seem like everyone covering the Seahawks writes about rookie receiver DK Metcalf every day. But it’s simply hard not to because he seems to do something noteworthy every day.

On Tuesday, Metcalf had a touchdown from Russell Wilson in an early red-zone drill, beating veteran Neiko Thorpe on a corner route.

Then, during the final two-minute drill mentioned above, he teamed with Wilson on three catches on the final series. One was a crossing route: Metcalf found a hole in the middle of the defense before taking a hit from cornerback Jeremy Boykins and falling somewhat awkwardly.

Metcalf got up slowly and seemed to be grabbing at his shoulder, sat out a play or two but returned and immediately connected with Wilson on a fade route to convert a third down, slipping inside of corner Simeon Thomas.

Then he dived in traffic to catch another pass from Wilson, and got up to run the final 20 yards or so for a TD that ended the workout.

It’s worth noting Metcalf was not with the first group of receivers when the session began — Tyler Lockett, Jaron Brown and David Moore were again the starters.

But he rotated in quickly and made big plays. And whether he’s officially a starter or not, it’s more obvious by the day — if it hadn’t been already — just how much the Seahawks will rely on him this season.

Off-the-radar linebacker stands out

Austin Calitro can be an easy guy to overlook, especially with all the excitement over the Bobby Wagner re-signing, a veteran trio of Wagner, K.J. Wright and Mychal Kendricks that could be among the best in team history and the arrival of rookies Cody Barton and Ben Burr-Kirven.

But Calitro shouldn’t be too easily dismissed when thinking about who is going to make the roster at linebacker.

He started five games last season, playing both middle and weakside linebacker, and has been a consistent presence throughout training camp so far, turning in a few notable plays Tuesday.

Specifically, Calitro had two stops of runs for little or no gain during an early team rushing drill.

Then, during the two-minute drill mentioned above, he stuffed Bo Scarbrough on a third-and-short play to stop a drive.

Myers almost perfect so far

A year ago, the kicking battle between Sebastian Janikowski and Jason Myers was one of the big early story lines. The job ended up going to Janikowski, a more proven veteran to whom the team had also given a $600,000 bonus.

Now, Myers is back but has no competition for the job after signing a four-year contract.

He hardly seems to be resting on his laurels, though,

Special teams coach Brian Schneider raved Tuesday about the consistency Myers has shown so far, saying he is 22-of-23 on field goals through five days of camp.

“He’s been fabulous,” Schneider said. “He’s been really consistent and just getting those three guys together, like I said earlier, the consistency of them working together (Myers, holder Michael Dickson and snapper Tyler Ott) and getting a good feel for each other has been really good and clean. It’s been good.”

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