Washington also listed starting left guard Ereck Flowers as questionable because of a foot injury. Flowers attended practice throughout the week but did not participate.
The losses of McKissic and Collins are significant blows to Washington in terms of production and leadership. McKissic, in his sixth year, has been a staple of Washington’s running and passing games, as exemplified Monday night when he had both rushing and receiving touchdowns before he was carted off the field after an eight-yard reception in the fourth quarter.
In 11 games this season, he has 48 carries for 212 yards (4.4 average) and two touchdowns and 43 catches for 397 receiving yards and two more scores. His reception total is tied for fifth among running backs, and it includes three catches for 25 or more yards, which are tied for the second most among NFL backs.
Perhaps more significantly, McKissic has been Washington’s best blocking back, with a knack for picking up blitzes to shield quarterback Taylor Heinicke.
“J.D.’s kind of a Swiss army knife for us,” wide receiver Terry McLaurin said after the win over the Seahawks. “He runs the ball really well. Obviously, he’s our third-down receiving back. All of them do a good job, but he’s really good with the screens, and he just finds those holes and hits them, and he has that extra gear. We’ve had some plays this year where he’s a mismatch to some linebackers.”
Behind starting back Antonio Gibson, Washington also has undrafted rookie Jaret Patterson, and Thursday it signed fullback Alex Armah to the practice squad. But the player Washington might turn to more to help fill the void is Wendell Smallwood, who played 15 games for Washington in 2019 and was re-signed to its practice squad in early November.
“His skill set is similar in a lot of respects to what J.D. does well,” Coach Ron Rivera told reporters Friday.
Washington may also increase the playing time of wide receiver Curtis Samuel, one of its prize free agent signings, who has missed much of the season because of a groin injury. Samuel is listed as questionable for Sunday, but he played 20 snaps Monday night and seemed to come out of the game feeling good. His ability to catch passes and run out of the backfield gives offensive coordinator Scott Turner more options after losing McKissic.
Finding a way to compensate for Collins’s absence may be more difficult. Collins appeared to suffer his foot injury in the final two minutes against the Seahawks, when he dropped down for a tackle on a pass play, then came up hobbling on the subsequent play.
The seventh-year safety has converted to more of a hybrid role in Washington’s defense this year, playing primarily in the box as a “Buffalo” nickel, or what Rivera also has described as a “drop-down safety.” The move has allowed Washington to play most of its defensive snaps with three safeties, using Collins along with Bobby McCain and Kam Curl, while also using Collins’s physicality and experience to bolster a thin linebacking corps.
Without Collins, Rivera said, Washington will rely on a committee approach.
“We have a couple of guys that we’re going to rotate in certain situations and circumstances, as far as that, and we’ll see how it goes,” Rivera said Friday. “But I feel comfortable and confident in the guys that we’re going to rotate through and the guys that will play bigger roles.”
Rounding out Washington’s depth chart at safety are Deshazor Everett and rookie Darrick Forrest, but the team also protected practice squad defensive back Jeremy Reaves and could elevate him for Sunday’s game.
The team hasn’t provided many specifics about Collins’s foot injury, and when asked of the severity and long-term outlook, Rivera said he didn’t have the answers.
Rivera didn’t have specifics about Flowers’s foot injury, either, but when asked for his level of optimism the veteran guard might play, he said: “It’s pretty good. It’s something that obviously you can play with, so we’re just trying to get it as fit and as comfortable as possible.”
Flowers has been a key cog on the left side of Washington’s line, along with left tackle Charles Leno. The two have provided a semblance of stability to a group that has lost three centers to injuries and is without its starting right tackle, Sam Cosmi, because of a hip injury.
Schweitzer went down on a run play in the second quarter vs. Seattle, prompting Washington to turn to its fourth center, Keith Ismael. Starting center Chase Roullier suffered a fractured fibula in Week 8, and his backup, Tyler Larsen, suffered a knee injury in Week 11 and is listed as questionable for Sunday.
Before shifting to center, Schweitzer had started four games at right guard earlier in the season, when Brandon Scherff was out because of an injury. Without him, the line’s depth will be tested further, and Washington could need Saahdiq Charles or some of the practice squad linemen to be ready for a call-up.