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Seattle Seahawks 2019 draft class is large but has run into big issues

UPDATED: Thu., Aug. 22, 2019, 9:08 p.m.

Seattle Seahawks rookie defensive end L.J. Collier works with coaches as he runs a drill, Monday, July 29, 2019, during training camp in Renton, Wash. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)
Seattle Seahawks rookie defensive end L.J. Collier works with coaches as he runs a drill, Monday, July 29, 2019, during training camp in Renton, Wash. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)
By Bob Condotta Seattle Times

RENTON, Wash. – L.J. Collier wasn’t in pads at Seahawks practice on Thursday.

But he carried some off the field anyway, fulfilling the usual rookie duty of carting equipment of some of the team’s veterans into the locker room following practice.

It was a sign that life may be getting somewhat back to normal for the Seahawks’ first-round pick, who has not practiced since July 30, when he suffered what coach Pete Carroll referred to as “a badly sprained ankle.”

Collier has rarely been seen on the field since. But on Thursday, the defensive end from TCU had his jersey on and went through some conditioning drills during the portion of practice open to media, and then was seen carrying off some equipment after it was over.

Still, it’s unclear exactly when Collier will return.

On Wednesday, coach Carroll said Collier is “doing a lot of stuff’’ but is not quite ready to do full running where he can “change direction.”

The Seahawks finish the preseason next Thursday against the Oakland Raiders at CenturyLink Field.

So it seems a long shot that Collier will play before the Sept. 8 regular-season opener, marking the third straight year that Seattle’s top pick has run into injury issues before the season. The top pick in 2017, Malik McDowell, never played after suffering injuries in an ATV accident. The first pick in 2018, running back Rashaad Penny, played just one preseason game before breaking a finger in practice.

Collier’s absence also highlights what has been a somewhat halting beginning for Seattle’s 2019 draft class, one of the largest in team history with 11 players. Seven of those were taken in the first four rounds, which heightened expectations that the team could get a substantial and immediate impact from its rookie class.

But if the Seahawks had played a game Thursday, it’s likely at least five of that class – including the top three picks and four of the top six – would have been unlikely to take part.

The good news is that, as far it appears at the moment, anyway, none of the injuries is overly serious, especially to the top three picks: Collier, safety Marquise Blair and receiver DK Metcalf.

Carroll altered some of the team’s usual training camp schedule hoping to get the rookies prepared to contribute as much as possible as early as possible, as well as try to up their conditioning to help avoid minor issues. Specifically, the Seahawks had the rookies report a week before the veterans, something they had not done since Carroll took over in 2010, with the rookies usually reporting at the same time as the vets or a day before.

But it’s impossible to account for everything in football, a sport where injuries are a daily reality that Seattle’s rookie class hasn’t been able to avoid.

Here’s a look at each of the Seahawks’ 2019 draft picks and their current stats, in order of their drafting:

Defensive end L.J. Collier (first round): As noted, he has not practiced in more than three weeks. The team hoped he would play substantially from Day 1 at the team’s strongside defensive end spot and also inside in the nickel. Thursday showed maybe that can still happen by Week 1, even if missing the bulk of training camp figures to mean he’ll need some time to get fully acclimated. At the time Collier was injured, Carroll cautioned that it was hard to know exactly when he would be back, saying it’s a “rare sprain.”

Safety Marquise Blair (second round): The former Utah star generated a lot of discussion with an event-filled opener against Denver. But Carroll also said later that Blair was still in the process of earning the team’s trust, especially in showing he would run the defense as called. He then suffered back spasms against the Vikings that held him to 16 snaps before he was carted off. He did not practice Wednesday but was present during the portion of practice open to the media Thursday, though it was unclear how much he practiced. Pro Football Focus has Blair as the team’s lowest-graded defender so far at 38.4.

Wide receiver DK Metcalf (second round): After playing 26 snaps in the opener and making one catch for 8 yards, the highly hyped Ole Miss product missed the second game and had knee surgery Tuesday. Carroll said minimal damage was found and didn’t rule out that Metcalf could be ready for the opener. But in the best-case scenario he’s likely to be limited early on.

Linebacker Cody Barton (third round): Barton battled a groin injury early in camp but is now full-go and has played 48 snaps in two games with nine tackles, tied for the second most on the team behind the 13 of Austin Calitro.

Wide receiver Gary Jennings (fourth round): Jennings battled a hamstring injury in the spring but is also full-go – he’s played 51 snaps in two games. But Jennings has yet to make a catch on three targets. His status as a fourth-rounder, though, appears to have him safe for making the roster.

Offensive lineman Phil Haynes (fourth round): The former Wake Forest star worked at times with the first team at left guard during some of the offseason program. But Haynes has yet to practice, having been played on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list prior to camp after having sports hernia surgery. Carroll said this week that Haynes is progressing but didn’t offer a specific ETA for his return. “He’s running and doing some stuff now that gets him closer,’’ Carroll said. “He hasn’t quite got where we want yet, but it’s a race to the opener if he can make it or not. The fact that it’s coming up to next week has got to be hard for him.”

Safety Ugo Amadi (fourth round): The former Oregon star has been one of the preseason standouts with a team-high-tying three tackles on special teams and also making two tackles with a pass defensed in 53 snaps in two games. He’s been working at free safety and the nickel corner spot and could get more time at nickel in the final two preseason games as the Seahawks look to make some decisions about a position that remains wide open.

Linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven (fifth round): The former Washington star also missed the team’s offseason program after having sports hernia surgery and was limited early in camp. But he’s also back full-go, playing 40 snaps against the Vikings after being held to 15 in the opener against Denver. He has six tackles in two games.

Running back Travis Homer (sixth round): Homer missed the preseason opener with a quad injury but returned against the Vikings to play 19 snaps, getting 16 yards on four carries. He remains in the running for a backup running back spot and specifically as one of the team’s third-down/2-minute backs.

Defensive tackle Demarcus Christmas (sixth round): Like Haynes, the former Florida State Seminole remains on the PUP list. Christmas is battling a back injury and it’s unclear when he will return. At this point, remaining on the PUP list as the season begins seems a decent possibility.

Wide receiver John Ursua (seventh round): Ursua has played 57 snaps, the most of any of the draft picks, with 48 yards on two catches and 11 yards on one carry. Seattle has some tough decisions to make to fill out its receiver position and Ursua appears squarely in the mix.

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