Pete Carroll was direct and to the point whenever the Seahawks’ third-year coach was asked about the area of his team that needed the most improvement this season.
It was the pass rush, in general, and finding players to help sack-leader Chris Clemons, specifically.
No problem. Pass-rushing tackle and end Jason Jones was signed in free agency and the Seahawks then selected rush-end Bruce Irvin in the first round of the NFL Draft. The problem? Clemons, who produced 11 sacks in each of his first two seasons with the Seahawks, was a no-show for the spring OTA and minicamp practices while his new contract was being negotiated.
Clemons signed that deal this week, so he was on the field Saturday when the team opened its Bing training camp.
Let the pass rush begin to improve.
“Out of all of the aspects of our football team, I’m most excited about our potential to improve there,” Carroll said after a spirited two-hour practice.
And it’s needed improvement. The Seahawks registered 33 sacks last season, with Clemons collecting a third of those and the other linemen combining for 10.
Enter Irvin, a flash of a pass-rusher who got all the work with the No. 1 defense at the “Leo” end spot in Clemons’ absence and Saturday was working there with the No. 2 unit. But the plan is to use them in tandem in the nickel defense, with Irvin stepping into the role that Raheem Brock filled the past two seasons.
“Just watching him today, man, he’s super-fast,” Clemons said. “So you know he’s going to help me. Hopefully, I’m able to help him through the season and help him mature as a football player.”
Asked after a spring practice about the benefits of getting to play with the No. 1 unit, Irvin said, “Sure it helps, but I can’t wait for (Clemons) to get here so I can start learning from him.”
And playing with, and playing off, him. With the combination of speed and relentlessness Clemons and Irvin are able to generate off the edges, it will only help a defense that ranked among the Top 10 in the NFL last season in average points and yards allowed.
“There’s no mystery to this one,” Carroll said. “Our plan is to play and have those guys on the field at the same time and we really have it already mapped out.”
The final destination: Forcing opposing quarterbacks into losing their way in passing situations. But how long will it take for the veteran and the rookie to mesh?
“Right now, we have training camp, we’ve got four preseason games to get out and work on our chemistry,” Clemons said. “So I’m just excited to really be able to get a chance to work with him.”
It’s the same scenario with Jones, who played for the Tennessee Titans the past four seasons and is being looked at to provide pressure from the interior in the nickel line.
“He brings a lot,” Clemons said. “Jason’s been successful in Tennessee and now watching him come out and practice, I mean, I think he’s a pretty good, big key to our inside. Last year, we didn’t have that. So now we have him and it’s going to help us because he’s going to be that fresh body coming off the sideline.”
That’s why the Seahawks gave Jones the rush in free agency.
“The really exciting element is to see what Jason Jones can bring for us,” Carroll said. “To have a guy that not only can rush outside, but can be a very effective guy we hope on the inside will accent having speed on both edges and a real elusive guy inside with great length and reach.
“The combination really elevates our potential for our pass rush.”
All part of Carroll’s grand plan, as was getting Clemons signed to a multiyear contract so neither side would have to worry what might happen in free agency next year. Clemons was entering the final year of contract that came with him when he was acquired in a 2010 trade with the Philadelphia Eagles.
“We believed in Chris and what he brought to the program in the past and what he will bring in the future,” Carroll said.
What Clemons has done in each of the past two seasons is produce 11 sacks – making him the first Seahawks end with double-digit sacks in back-to-back seasons since Michael Sinclair in 1997 and 1998.
With Irvin and Jones around to help him, you have to look skyward to gauge the limits of Clemons’ potential production – and that of the still-improving defense.
“The first year, coach (Carroll) kind of didn’t know what he was getting himself into, and we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into,” Clemons said. “Rookies are not rookies anymore, they’re all grown now. So everybody is coming out and you’ve got to have an attitude going into it now.
“It’s not the same as it was the first year.”
Or even last year, after Jones and Irvin were added to give Clemons some needed help and Clemons is now here to help them.