SEATTLE, WA - Following a strong first offseason program with the Seahawks, L.J. Collier couldn't wait for his first NFL game action. With just one week until his debut, the first-round pick out of TCU looked poised to carve out an immediate role on the team's defensive line rotation.
Then, during the closing moments of one of Seattle's first training camp practices on July 30, Collier's leg got tangled up while rushing against tackle Duane Brown during a scrimmage. He hobbled off the field on his own power, but could barely put any weight on his injured right ankle. After trainers worked with him off to the side, he was carted off the field.
Battling a high ankle sprain, Collier wound up missing the entire preseason, losing out on invaluable practice and exhibition reps. Falling behind his peers, he struggled to make up for lost time once he returned to action in Week 2 of the regular season.
"I came in against the Steelers, hadn't practiced anything in a long time. No pad work," Collier said in a Zoom press conference with Seattle media. "So I was a step behind everybody. When I did catch a stride, I did play... It was very difficult, but I learned a lot about myself, about the league."
With his once promising rookie season compromised greatly by the injury, Collier played just 152 defensive snaps in 11 games, producing three tackles for the Seahawks. He didn't register a sack or a quarterback hit, failing to chip in as a pass rusher. Adding insult to injury, he was a healthy scratch for seven games, including both of Seattle's playoff contests in Philadelphia and Green Bay.
Reflecting on his frustrating first year in the Pacific Northwest, Collier admitted he never fully recovered from the ankle sprain and may have rushed back too quickly. But he doesn't have any regrets for how things played out and simply wanted to help his football team.
"I definitely wasn't 100 percent, but I got to where I could play and things like that," Collier commented. "And I felt at times that I should have waited longer, but I wanted to play... I wanted to get out there."
Not worrying about living up to his first-round draft status, Collier has turned the page to his second season. Fully healthy, he's not dwelling on everything that went wrong in 2019, instead focusing on learning from the experience and establishing himself as a significant contributor for the Seahawks.
Eager to return to the field and get started, Collier expects to compete for snaps both as a defensive end and a 3-tech defensive tackle, reducing inside during pass rushing situations. Citing his athleticism for his size, he's eager to emulate former starter Michael Bennett moving inside and out along the line.
Regardless of the role Seattle asks Collier to play in the trenches, he will be ready and willing to do whatever it takes to help his team win games. Humbled by how last season transpired, he's "chomping at the bit" to silence his doubters.
"I'm excited to get back out there and show people who I am," Collier stated confidently. "I don't really care about the first-round pick stuff. I'm a football player at the end of the day, I can play at a high level just like everyone else can. I'm out there to prove I'm one of the best and I can do what I need to do. I can rush the passer, I can stop the run and I'm out there to prove that."
After his injury prevented him from putting his versatility on display and making an impact as a rookie, a motivated Collier knows what he's capable of. With last season behind him, he can't wait for the chance to redeem himself and demonstrate he's "one hell of a football player."
"It's time to do what I can do and eat. At the end of the day, it's just time to eat, play ball, and just make some plays. Get after the quarterback, help this team any way I can."