L.J. Collier isn't letting a quiet rookie season dampen his outlook for 2020. Now fully healthy after an ankle injury sidelined him the majority of training camp, and limited his progress into the regular season, the defensive end is excited for the opportunity to show off the speed and athleticism that made him a first-round pick in 2019.
"I didn't have the type of year that everybody wanted me to have, so it kind of shifts you off to the side," Collier said to media during a virtual press conference. "I felt very disrespected."
At this point last year, the sky was the limit for Collier. The opportunity for playing time was there in the absence of Frank Clark, who had been traded to the Chiefs in order to acquire the pick. And Collier's work during the offseason had done nothing to suggest he wouldn't be a candidate for significant minutes.
"I was excited," he said. "I had my first preseason game [the] next week and was ready to show people what I can do. I was starting to come up, I was having a good camp. Then I got hurt. I've never had an injury like this before. I've sprained my ankle before but this one was just different."
The injury, originally identified as a "rare ankle sprain," nearly landed Collier on the I.R. list, ending his rookie season before it began. Instead, he spent most of the year on the sidelines as he tried to adjust to the league while still being hobbled by the injury.
"I definitely wasn't 100%," Collier said, "but I got to a point where I could play. I felt there were times where I should have waited longer. But that was me. I wanted to get out there.
"The name of the game is repetition. I realized that missing those reps was a big thing, especially when you're new to the league. I needed preseason to knock off the rust. I came in against the Steelers having not practiced in a very long time. I was a step behind everybody."
The defensive end ultimately played 152 snaps over 11 games, registering three tackles. But he's not looking to dwell on what many might consider a lost season.
"I'm the type of person where there's no need for talking," he said. "Just go out there and run through people's face. You make noise and they'll remember who you are very quickly…I'm out there to prove that I'm one hell of a football player, and I'm going to show them that this year…It's time to eat."