L.J. Collier Continues to Blossom in Second Season with Seahawks
RENTON, WA - At this time one year ago, L.J. Collier had played in just three games for the Seahawks, logging 41 snaps and producing just one tackle.
Later admitting he wasn't 100 percent healthy after suffering an ankle sprain during the early stages of his first NFL training camp, Collier struggled to carve out a role in Seattle's defensive line rotation throughout his rookie season. He badly wanted to contribute, but when he had seen the field, he had been a relative non-factor, already drawing the dreaded "bust" label from some fans.
Fast forwarding to the present, Collier hasn't exactly been stuffing box scores with gaudy statistics. But the second-year defensive end has been one of the few bright spots for a Seahawks defense that has had trouble slowing down opponents despite posting an undefeated 5-0 record heading into this week's bye.
"I think he's been on since we've been back. He's just been a different guy," coach Pete Carroll said on Monday. "He's been the best of him. He's been in great shape. He's mentally right. His effort has been excellent. Technique-wise he keeps getting better. I think that's what you're seeing. His experiences are starting to show. He's just more precise with how he's making his plays."
Starting all five games at the 5-tech end spot thus far, Collier has only produced six tackles and two tackles for loss. But these numbers don't adequately illustrate how effective or disruptive the former TCU standout has been, particularly as a run defender. He's excelling doing the dirty work as players such as Red Bryant and Quinton Jefferson have done for the Seahawks in the past.
On numerous occasions, Collier has wreaked havoc off the edge, using his heavy hands to overpower opposing tackles and drive them into the backfield. This has created opportunities for teammates, including when he helped reset the line of scrimmage on an eventual safety against the Cowboys, allowing Bryan Mone to bring down Ezekiel Elliott in the end zone.
Collier has also developed a bit of a clutch gene, coming up with big run stops when Seattle absolutely needed them. In Week 2, with the game on the line against New England, he upended quarterback Cam Newton two yards short of the goal line to secure a 35-30 victory. Then on Sunday against Minnesota, he disengaged from a block to corral Kirk Cousins as he attempted to score a two-point conversion on a quarterback draw, keeping Seattle within five points on the scoreboard.
Where Collier has surprised the most, however, has been his steady growth as a pass rusher so far this season. While lacking elite athletic traits for the position, he has consistently won with power both as an end and a 3-tech defensive tackle reduced inside. Executing sound counter moves off of bull rushes, he entered Sunday's prime time game with two quarterback hits and seven pressures.
Against the Vikings, Collier stepped his pass rushing game up to another level. Early in the second quarter, Seattle ran a tackle-end exchange stunt with him working straight upfield from 3-tech alignment and Benson Mayowa twisting behind him inside. Mayowa had Cousins dead to right, but couldn't wrap him up. Luckily, Collier worked back inside to bring him down for his first career sack.
Then, during the early stages of the fourth quarter, Collier again made his presence known as an interior rusher. Slanting the A-gap hard from from 3-tech alignment, he shot past the left guard nearly untouched with a direct path to Cousins, forcing the quarterback to sprint towards the end zone before chucking the ball out of bounds for an incompletion.
After yielding zero pressures or quarterback hits in under 200 total defensive snaps as a rookie, Carroll couldn't be happier to see a healthy Collier bounce back and contribute in the pass rushing department.
What's impressed him the most? Collier hasn't benefited from rotating as much as the Seahawks would have preferred with Rasheem Green on injured reserve. Yet, he's still maintained great effectiveness despite playing more snaps than the team initially planned, another sign of his improved conditioning showing up on the field.
"I think he's going to have a great season for us. He's already been real effective," Carroll remarked. "He's had to play a lot. Hasn't had the rotation because Rasheem hasn't been in there. He's had to play more than we would have liked."
As Carroll noted, there's a major advantage to being able to rotate defensive linemen more frequently, especially for bigger-bodied ends such as Collier, who told reporters earlier this season he trimmed down to 275 pounds.
With Green likely to return after the bye, Carroll believes Seattle will be able to keep Collier fresh and thus play "a little hotter," which in turn should allow him to be even more productive after a strong start to the 2020 season. Coming off a disappointing rookie season, the motivated defender looks to be just getting started, which is great news for a team that needs young talent to emerge along the defensive line for the present and the future.
"I think he's doing great. We're really excited. Really thrilled that he has a chance to contribute. We're counting on him."