The Avril affect has played into Justin Britt’s development

Posted Sep 2, 2014

In his first regular-season start, Seahawks’ rookie right tackle Justin Britt will have to deal with the Packers’ pass-rush duo of Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers. But then he’s been honing his skills against Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett in practice.

If Pete Carroll has said it once, the Seahawks’ coach has said it just about every time he has been asked about the rapid development of rookie right tackle Justin Britt: Going against Cliff Avril in practice every day has helped prepare Britt for what’s about to happen.

Britt isn’t just preparing to start his first NFL regular-season game; the second-round draft choice from Missouri will do it in Thursday night’s nationally televised opener at CenturyLink Field against a Green Bay Packers defense that will unleash Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers as edge-rushers in passing situations.

Those two have combined for 168.5 career sacks – 118.5 for Peppers, including 14.5 in 2008 while playing for the Carolina Panthers and 11.5 in 2012 while playing for the Chicago Bears; and 50 for Matthews, including 13.5 in 2010 and 13 in 2012.

That’s where those Britt vs. Avril matchups come into play. Call it The Avril Affect, if you will.

“I’ve gotten plenty of live reps in practice going against him,” Britt said of Avril, who had eight sacks in his first season with the Seahawks after collecting 39.5 the previous five seasons with the Detroit Lions. “So I feel I’ve gotten better every day and I’m more prepared than I was when I got here.”

Avril’s take on having helped Britt prepare for Thursday night?

“He has grown big time since the beginning of camp,” he said. “The beginning of camp, he was still trying to figure things out. Mentally, he’s there, which is great. But the thing is he continues to want to grow. He asks questions. He asks me a lot of questions, which is a great sign from a young guy.

“That’s what I used to do. I used to ask O-linemen different questions, what they look for. Same with him. That’s what he’s doing. And that’s pretty impressive to see from a young guy.”

Reminded of Carroll’s repeated comment about The Avril Affect, line coach Tom Cable said, “Absolutely. It’s a huge factor, I think. And if it’s not been Cliff, it’s been Mike Bennett (who led the Seahawks with 8.5 sacks last season). So he’s getting exposed to two very, very talented pass-rushers and then guys who are savvy playing the run as well.

“So that’s no doubt impacted his development.” 

The Seahawks made the 6-foot-6, 325-pound Britt the 64th pick in May’s NFL Draft with the plan that he would compete for the starting job on the right side that opened when Breno Giacomini signed with the New York Jets in free agency. But as with quarterback Russell Wilson when he was a rookie in 2012, the competition brought out the best in Britt.

The initial competition was with Michael Bowie, who started eight games last season when Giacomini was out with a knee injury. But Bowie damaged a shoulder and was waived with the idea of bringing him back once he cleared waivers. Instead, he was claimed by the Cleveland Browns. But Britt had the upper hand on Bowie even before he went down.

Next up was veteran Eric Winston, who was signed in late July. And while Britt learned from Winston, who has started 119 consecutive games in the NFL, there was never much doubt that the job had become Britt’s to lose. That morphed into no doubt after Britt’s performance in the preseason opener against the Broncos in Denver.

“Really, the way he adjusted from the first few plays in the game and to series two and three and four, he just kind of problem solved really well,” Cable said. “Really took the coaching. Fixed things right as they happened and has continued to do that.”

Asked the same one-moment-or-progressive-process question about his development, Britt said, “Maybe a little of both. I just kept hammering it. There were days where there was frustration, but just keep battling through and soon you’ll have a breakthrough.

“I just went out there and set goals for myself every day and tried to reach those goals, whether it was in the game or practice. I just controlled what I could control.”

And Britt and Cable are well aware of what’s coming on Thursday night, because Matthews and Peppers can contribute to things getting out of control.

“I think he’ll be fine,” Cable said. “All he has done is improve. He’s got good matchups for the first time out, so it will be important for him to just stay focused and as the game goes adjust as he goes.”

Just as Britt has been doing since he first stepped on the practice field for the rookie minicamp in May, and continuing with his daily matchups against Avril this summer.