Sports

What’s up with Seahawks’ top two draft choices, mothballed L.J. Collier, Marquise Blair?

L.J. Collier’s time may be arriving.

The Seahawks’ rookie first-round draft choice battled back from a badly sprained ankle on the fifth day of training camp in late July. He was healthy for the start of the regular season last month.

But the defensive end from TCU curiously has been inactive as a healthy scratch for three of his first five NFL games. He was inactive again last week for the 30-29 win over the Rams, when the Seahawks failed to sack Jared Goff in 49 drop backs.

Now, with defensive end Branden Jackson having a new injury, Collier apparently will make a move up in the defensive-line rotation for Sunday’s game at the Cleveland Browns.

“I think that L.J. is going to show you here now in the next few weeks that he’s going to be able to figure into what’s happening,” coach Pete Carroll said before Jackson missed Wednesday’s practice with a new neck injury.

“It’s just taken him awhile. He missed so much football. I’m planning on him being a factor this week and continue to grow with that.”

Jackson had been the fourth defensive end used with Quinton Jefferson as a hybrid tackle on passing downs inside bookends Jadeveon Clowney and Ziggy Ansah in Seattle’s pass rush. Collier is poised to move into that number-four role at end against a Browns offensive line that has allowed Baker Mayfield to be sacked 16 times in five games. That’s the sixth-most sacks allowed in the league.

“He’s in the rotations. ...We’re going to play him. When he’s up, he’s playing,” Carroll said of Collier. “We don’t have any hesitation to play him in the games. He’ll just continue to play better. He’s really practiced hard.

“Since he got back from his injury, he’s just been more focused and his attention to details have just been better. He’s in better shape than he was when he left for camp. Coming back to camp, he’s in better shape. He’s getting there.

“I’m really anxious to get him to play and contribute. He’ll do some good stuff for us.”

The other played listed as not participating on the Seahawks’ short practice-participation report Wednesday: starting right guard D.J. Fluker because of a hamstring injury that makes Jamarco Jones more likely to start there against the Browns; and left tackle Duane Brown, in what is becoming a routine mid-week day off to rest a nagging biceps injury.

Collier is still something of a project for Seattle, especially relative to most first-round picks in the NFL. He had one breakout season in college, last year for TCU when he was named to the All-Big 12 Conference team. Before that he was a reserve and part-time end in college. And he’s been more a tough, inside pass rusher than a flashy edge rusher that relies fully on speed.

Collier made his NFL debut in week two at Pittsburgh. He played 16 snaps in Seattle’s win over the Steelers Sept. 15.

“I set goals for myself for the first game. I did better than I thought I would,” Collier said of his first game. “I was a lot faster than I thought I’d be.

“It feels good to be back.”

But the following weekend, the home loss to New Orleans, he was back to idling.

Carroll gave a sketch of what you can expect to see if and when Collier finally gets to play consistently. Or at least more than he’s been playing.

“He’s got great length. In that, he uses it in his pass rush,” the coach said. “He’s a penetrating player. Gets in the backfield because of his quickness. He’s going to make stuff happen.

“We don’t have any thought about that he’s not going to be a really good player. We just think it’s time and experience.”

Same goes for Seattle’s second-round pick, rookie Marquise Blair.

Blair had an impressive debut as an interchangeable safety in the first preseason game in early August.

Then he also missed most of that month with a back injury and hip pointer. That set Blair far back in his development and in the coaches’ plans. Lano Hill passed him and became the fill-in at safety when starter Tedric Thompson missed games with a hamstring injury last month.

Blair was been inactive for each of the last two games.

Carroll said Blair, a strong safety known for his hard hitting at Utah, is fully a free safety now. The coach said Blair’s stand-out play on special teams has earned him a longer look against Hill in competition for playing time behind the starting safety pairing of Thompson and Bradley McDougald.

“Marquise showed so well in preseason. Again, he just missed so much and he’s behind guys that have all played here and given us a lot of confidence in their background,” Carroll said. “It’s hard to get him in there. When do you work him in these games? There’s not much time to do that.

“He has shown the brightest spots of any of the players in the hits that he’s made, the plays that he’s made on special teams running and hitting, to give us really high hopes that he’s going to be a really big factor. He’s got a knack for hitting football and being around the ball. We think he’s going to be good. He’s just playing behind some guys that know what they’re doing and it’s hard to unseat those guys.

“He is in the competition this week again. He’s practicing for play time this week. We’ve already conveyed that to him. We think he deserves that. He and Lano will be working really hard in practice this week for more play time.”

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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