Seahawks rookie tight end Nick Vannett hopes to make his NFL debut Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons at CenturyLink Field.
Nick Vannett had so rarely been injured in his football career — he played in 53 of a possible 54 games in four seasons at Ohio State — that he wasn’t really sure what to do when he felt pain in his lower leg after taking an awkward hit in the Seahawks’ preseason game against Minnesota on Aug. 18.
As Vannett describes it, after he caught a pass for 15 yards against the Vikings, “a guy was like on my back left hip and kind of hit me low so my leg went down, and then I got hit from (the other) side.’’
As the leg took the brunt of all that weight, Vannett’s initial thought was that he had injured his knee.
“I felt something in there, something weird,’’ Vannett said Thursday. “So I was trying to get up real quick and see if it was stable. And then my ankle started getting stiff on me and that was when I ran off the field. And then after a while it was so stiff I couldn’t walk on it and that’s when they brought me in to the locker room.’’
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Vannett eventually was diagnosed with a Grade 3 high ankle sprain — the most severe and defined as having a complete tear of ligaments in the area. Vannett said he also hyperextended his MCL (knee).
But after almost two months on the sideline Vannett is finally ready to make his NFL debut Sunday against Atlanta in a 1:25 p.m. game at CenturyLink Field. Taken with the 94th overall pick as one of Seattle’s three third-round selections in the 2016 draft, Vannett will become the last of the eight draftees on the Seahawks’ active roster at the moment to get in a game, which he hopes happens Sunday.
“I’ve never had a serious injury like that,’’ he said. “It’s the first time I’ve been out of football for a while so it was different. I wasn’t used to it. I was getting super anxious in there, was staring at the training room ceiling for like six weeks. But I’m finally back and I can’t wait to get on the field and contribute.’’
Vannett said he’s not yet 100 percent but that “I can still do the things I used to do and it’s very tolerable.’’
So should his number get called on Sunday he says he’ll be ready to go.
Vannett is one of four tight ends for the Seahawks (Jimmy Graham, Luke Willson and Brandon Williams the others). But with no fullback on the roster and Thomas Rawls injured, Seattle can likely find roles for all four on the 46-man gameday roster.
Asked about Vannett’s role earlier this week, offensive line coach Tom Cable said: “We’ll find out, Now that he’s healthy and we have him and we can practice him and get him involved. We’ll certainly find out.”
One thought had been that Vannett could be used in a fullback-role similar to that Willson has also done lately.
Vannett said it’s one he’s well-practiced in.
“I was pretty much a fullback at Ohio State,’’ he said. “I played in the wing a lot and they had me counterblock and a whole bunch of stuff. So yeah, I’m used to it. I wouldn’t mind it.’’
But Vannett said so far this week he had been mostly used as a Y, or off-line, tight end so far.
Mostly, he just wants on the field.
The Seahawks drafted him thinking he could help largely as an in-line, or blocking, tight end. But he also showed good hands during training camp and had three receptions for 37 yards before being injured.
“The thing about it is I had such good momentum going and then this happened,’’ Vannett said of his injury. “It kind of set me back a little. But now it’s like when I first came back mentally it’s kind of hard to stay in it when you know you are not going to be out there playing. But now I am fully back mentally, physically. I don’t know how much I’m going to play but I know when I’m in there I’m going to go hard and do my job.’’