No one on the Zoom call was going to use the word. L.J. Collier is too nice of a guy, too new to the NFL, and it would have just felt unnecessary.
But after a rookie season that displayed limited promise amid limited snaps, you know the label is on fans’ and media’s minds.
No, the Seahawks’ 2019 first-round draft pick isn’t there yet. Collier’s season was partially hampered by an ankle injury, which kept him on the sideline during critical training-camp workouts.
But the defensive end knows that skeptics abound, and wants to make clear that he plans to change their minds.
“I’m champing on the bit to get out there, because it’s one of those things where you didn’t have the year you wanted to get, so they just kind of shift you off to the side and say, ‘You can’t play.’ It’s disrespectful, and I feel very disrespected,” Collier said. “But I’m the type of person where there is no need for talking, I want to show what I can do. You run through a couple people’s faces, you make noise, and people, they’ll remember who you are very quickly.”
Collier didn’t run through many faces last season. He didn’t get much run, period. In 11 games he played just 152 snaps — less 15 percent of the Seahawks’ total defensive snaps. He finished with two solo tackles and one assisted tackle, and saw few reporters’ tape recorders up close.
Given the expectations that come with being a first-rounder, it was a bit like a lead actor being reduced to an extra. But talk to Collier, and he’ll tell you his draft status is irrelevant.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Next season, the plan is for Collier to compete for time at defensive end and at three-technique tackle. He’ll play on the inside or outside depending on the situation, much in the way Michael Bennett did with the Seahawks.
Given how Seattle’s defensive line is probably still the weakest part of the team (Jadeveon Clowney remains unsigned, although Bruce Irvin was a sound addition), Collier finding his footing in his sophomore year would serve as a much-needed boost on the pass-rushing front.
And he seems genuinely enthused about the situation. Perhaps part of the reason Collier went as high as he did (26th overall) was because he nailed the interview. He certainly said all the right things during the call Friday.
Collier expressed disappointment in not being able being able to make the “big play” and celebrate with his fellow defensive linemen last year. He thought his injury put him behind, and found it difficult to catch up. But he also emphasized that all those problems and shortcomings were very much last year.
“Last year is last year. I’m focused on this year. I’m not worried about last year,” Collier said. “It’s time to do what I can do and eat. At the end of the day it’s time to just eat, play ball, make some plays, get after the quarterback, help this team any way I can.”
Winning news conferences doesn’t mean much in the sports world. If it did, a guy such as Patriots coach Bill Belichick never would have broken .500. But it was encouraging to hear how Collier spoke.
The bust label looms over him. No doubt. But he’s ready to bust people up.