Seattle Seahawks

Seahawks top pass rusher Ziggy Ansah has setback in return from shoulder surgery

Pete Carroll welcomes Bobby Wagner back to practice, lists Seahawks injuries heading into second preseason game

Coach Pete Carroll welcomes All-Pro Bobby Wagner back to practice, lists Seahawks injuries heading into second preseason game Sunday at Minnesota.
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Coach Pete Carroll welcomes All-Pro Bobby Wagner back to practice, lists Seahawks injuries heading into second preseason game Sunday at Minnesota.

Now the Seahawks have another issue with their pass rush.

Their best pass rusher has had a setback in trying to get on the field for the first time with his new team.

Ziggy Ansah’s comeback from shoulder surgery and debut on the practice field for the Seahawks is on hold because of a groin injury he got this week, coach Pete Carroll said.

Ansah apparently got hurt in conditioning drills this week, since that is all the 2015 Pro Bowl defensive end with Detroit has been doing for the last month.

“It’s going to take him a bit. It’s not a major injury, at all,” Carroll said following Friday’s practice. “We are really thrilled that his strength is back; he is back to full strength in terms of the rehab for his (surgically repaired) shoulder.

“So we are just waiting on his groin right now.”

Asked if this endangers Ansah’s chances of being ready for the regular season when it begins Sept. 8 against Cincinnati, Carroll said: “I don’t think so. He’s got plenty of time to get back from this. It’s not a serious injury, at all.

“It’s just something that’s going to nag him for a little bit.”

The Seahawks don’t need any more nags in their pass rush.

Or, specifically, their lack of one. It’s the biggest issue for the team heading into the 2019 season.

Seattle traded top sack man Frank Clark to Kansas City this spring rather than pay him the $20 million per year he was seeking and the Chiefs gave him instead. Then last month the NFL suspended defensive tackle Jarran Reed, who was second on the team to Clark with 10 1/2 sacks last season. Reed will miss the first six games of this season after an alleged domestic-violence incident at his Bellevue home.

Seattle Seahawks defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (98) warms up before the start of the game. The Seattle Seahawks played the Denver Broncos in a NFL preseason game at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Wash., on Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019. Joshua Bessex

Ansah, 30, was Seattle’s big offseason signing to mitigate trading Clark. Ansah has earned $52 million sacking quarterbacks in his seven-year career. He has 48 career sacks in six NFL seasons, all with Detroit. He made the Pro Bowl in 2015 for Detroit. The Lions let him leave in free agency after his season-ending shoulder surgery last year.

The Seahawks had been hoping to have Ansah practice by the end of August. Trainers had been waiting on the 30-year-old to regain full strength in his repaired shoulder. Meanwhile, they were running him through conditioning drills on a side field during most practices. He had recently progressed to firing out of his stance into a blocking sled.

Ansah is under contract for one year and potentially up to $9 million. He hasn’t played 500 or more snaps in a full season (31 snaps per game) since 2015, that breakout Pro Bowl year with Detroit.

The Seahawks are largely paying a la carte for Ansah this year. Almost half his $6 million in guarantees are in per-game roster bonuses. If he’s not healthy for a game, the Seahawks won’t pay him extra for that week.

His base salary is $2.5 million, fully guaranteed. He got a $3.5 million signing bonus.

It’s a passer-and-sack-the-passer league. Seattle has the passer in Russell Wilson.

Without Ansah indefinitely, and with Reed suspended into October, this is what they have to sack the passer:

L.J. Collier: Seattle’s first-round draft choice this spring has shown to be more of an inside, power-rushing end than a speed rusher outside like Clark. Collier had one breakout season in college rushing the passer, last year for TCU. He was on the second-team defensive line during Seahawks minicamps and OTAs.

This month, Collier got what Carroll called a sprain in the upper foot near the ankle the Seahawks had never before seen. The team will reassess him next week to get a better idea when he may be able to practice.

Cassius Marsh: One of the starting ends right now, with Ansah out. Marsh signed back this offseason, after Seattle’s middle-round draft choice in 2014 played for New England and, the last two seasons, San Francisco. The most sacks Marsh has had in any season: 5 1/2, last year.

Branden Jackson: A part-timer with 1 1/2 sacks for two teams in three NFL seasons. He and Marsh were the starting defensive ends in Seattle’s offseason minicamp and organized team activities.

Jacob Martin: The team’s sixth-round pick in 2018 was an encouraging pass rusher in limited roles that increased as his rookie season went on last year. He had three sacks in a role that he will get a chance to expand greatly, beginning in training camp. He has shown the speed Seattle lacks off the edge, but remains unproven.

Rasheem Green: Seattle drafted the USC defensive tackle-end in the third round last year envisioning him as an inside-outside pass-rushing end somewhat like Michael Bennett was in his Pro Bowl years for the Seahawks. But Green had just one sack in 10 games as a rookie.

Nazair Jones: Last season the Seahawks’ third-round pick from 2017 got snaps over undrafted rookie Poona Ford at defensive tackle when Seattle played passing teams. Ford got more of the plays when the Seahawks played running teams. Coaches like the 6-foot-5 Jones batting passes at the line of scrimmage. Reed’s suspension opens a big chance for Jones to win a larger role in 2019.

Quinton Jefferson: The Seahawks’ fifth-round pick in 2016 had good pressure numbers and three sacks in limited playing time last season. He had one sack in his first two NFL seasons before that. He is starting at end opposite Marsh in most scrimmages during practices this month.

Al Woods: A 32-year-old run-stopping defensive tackle. He has 4 1/2 sacks in nine NFL seasons.

Poona Ford: Last season’s undrafted rookie is a run-stopping more than pass-rushing defensive tackle. He had zero sacks in 11 games for the Seahawks last year.

Jamie Meder: Another run-stopping, gap-clogging defensive tackle the Seahawks signed to improve upon allowing 4.9 yards per rush last season, the worst of the Pete Carroll coaching era. Meder has two sacks in three NFL seasons.

Earl Mitchell: The Seahawks signed the veteran defensive tackle after Reed got suspended. Mitchell turns 32 in September. He is 6 feet 3, 310 pounds. He figures to help inside Seattle’s run defense that allowed an alarming 4.9 yards per rush in 2018, the worst mark of Carroll’s decade as Seahawks coach.

Mitchell has 6 1/2 sacks in nine NFL seasons. He has one sack in his last four seasons, 31 games in 2018 and ‘17 with San Francisco and 21 games in 2015 and ‘16 with Miami. His first four years in the league were with Houston.

So he’s not here to help the pass rush.

Demarcus Christmas: The rookie sixth-round pick from Florida State told us a few minutes after Seattle took him in April’s draft: “I’m a run stuffer.” Then he went on the physically-unable-to-perform list at the start of training camp with a back injury that’s required two treatments. Carroll said the second one recently worked better than the first, but the coach had no estimate on when the rookie might get back on the practice field.

Bryan Mone: An undrafted rookie defensive tackle from Michigan.

Jay-Tee Tiuli: An undrafted rookie free agent from Eastern Washington.

So, yes, Ansah’s new injury, even if it is minor, is a major issue for the weakest part of this team.

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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