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Seahawks Chris Clemons in a rush to return

Posted Jul 19, 2013

When first-year defensive coordinator Dan Quinn watches tape of Chris Clemons from last season he sees the same pass-rush attributes that the on-the-mend Leo end displayed in their first season together.

Dan Quinn’s last season with the Seahawks was Chris Clemons’ first season with the club.

It was 2010, when Quinn was a holdover from Jim Mora’s staff after Pete Carroll was hired as the head coach and handled the defensive line that season; and Clemons was acquired in a March trade with the Philadelphia Eagles to play the hybrid “Leo” end spot in Carroll’s defense.

Quinn spent the past two seasons as the defensive coordinator at the University of Florida, but has returned to the Seahawks in that capacity after Gus Bradley was hired in January to be the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

In his video review of the Seahawks’ highly successful 2012 season, Quinn has seen the same attributes that Clemons displayed in that first season together – a combination of speed and relentlessness that has allowed Clemons to produce 11, 11 and 11.5 sacks in his three seasons with the team.

“Really, to his credit, you see the same speed, the same effort, the same relentlessness that makes Chris the type of player that he is,” Quinn said this week, when he was in his office at Virginia Mason Athletic Center preparing for the start of training camp next week.

“You’re not surprised when you watch that after you get to know Chris. From a warrior mindset, he has that.”

Just when that warrior mindset will be back on the field remains to be seen as Clemons continues his rehab from surgery to repair the ligament and meniscus he tore in his left knee during the wild-card playoff game against the Washington Redskins in January.

Clemons is ahead of schedule in his recovery, and determined to return ASAP.

“The doctor says he is in great shape, he’s ahead and all of that. He’s worked diligently to get there,” Carroll told reporters during the team’s minicamp in June. “You guys ask if he’s going to make it by the first game. I don’t know that. But he has a chance. And if it can happen, he’ll make it happen.

“Like I said the whole time, we’ll not rush that. We’ll take our time the whole time on that and make sure he’s right. The doctors are greatly confident and he is also, and we’ll start playing him whenever that happens.”

For the second consecutive offseason, the club made moves aimed at improving the pass rush on a defense that allowed the fewest points in the NFL last season while ranking a franchise-best No. 4 in average yards allowed. Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett were signed in free agency, after producing 9.5 and nine sacks last season for the Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The tackle tandem of Jordan Hill and Jesse Williams were added in the NFL Draft.

But as Clemons has shown the past three seasons, he remains a vital part of getting to the opposing quarterback.

“Chris has all the dimensions that we’re looking for in that spot – a guy who can play on his feet, can play down, can drop into coverage and the No. 1 thing is the ability to rush and get off the ball,” Quinn said of Clemons’ skill set being such a good match for the position he plays. “So, yeah, he’s been terrific.”

It’s just that Clemons’ relentless and productive efforts continue to go unnoticed by some. NFL.com recently ranked the top edge rushers in the league. They included 38 players in five categories – best of the best (seven), next level (four), knocking on the door in two groups (nine and five) and just missed (13).

Chris Clemons did not appear on the list, in any category.

“I don’t know why that is. Sometimes that’s just an oversight on their part,” Quinn said. “Because Chris is a handful. Our coaches know that, and so do his teammates.”

Do they ever. As defensive end Red Bryant said last season, “Clem is a phenomenal end. Clem will make you raise your standard of play because you know what you’re going to get out of the guy. He plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played. And when you’re playing with a guy like that, you want to hold up your end.”

Literally, as well as figuratively. And against the run as well as rushing the passer. Clemons uses the same speed and relentlessness that have allowed him to product 33.5 sacks the past three seasons to be a disruptive and productive player against the run. He had 48 tackles in 2010 to lead all the Seahawks’ D-linemen. He had a career-high 51 in 2011 and 40 last season, finishing second to tackle Brandon Mebane among the linemen.

“The one thing that stands out when you put his tape on is his speed that he plays with and really it’s the relentless motor that he has,” Quinn said. “You like to say all guys play hard, well Chris takes it a step further. That’s one of the things that always jumped out at me about Chris, whether it’s against the run or rushing the passer.”  

But it’s Clemons the 254-pound pass-rusher who weighs most heavily on opponents.

“He’s very disruptive as a pass-rusher, plays hard all the time,” Pat Shurmur said in 2011, when he was head coach of the Cleveland Browns. “(His success) didn’t surprise me, not at all. He’s a good player.”

Not to mention a productive pass-rusher – one of the most consistent in the NFL the past three seasons and also in franchise history.

Only two other players in the league have produced double-digit sacks in each of the past three seasons – DeMarcus Ware of the Dallas Cowboys and Jared Allen of the Minnesota Vikings. Ware was voted to the Pro Bowl in each of those seasons, while Allen went the past two years. Clemons? He was a first alternate last season.

Only two other players in Seahawks history have produced double-digit sacks in three consecutive seasons – Jacob Green, who did it for four years (1983-86); and Michael Sinclair (1996-98). Not surprisingly, Green and Sinclair were voted to the Seahawks’ 35th Anniversary team.

But it’s difficult to measure Clemons’ impact on the defense, and the team, in stats alone – even when they are as impressive as those compiled so consistently by Clemons.

“Clem is a great leader on this team,” Carroll said. “He’s tough as nails. And he really stands for something in this locker room.”