Seahawks' Cliff Avril adjusts to rotating role

todd.dybas@thenewstribune.comDecember 7, 2013 

RENTON — Cliff Avril is still reconciling his role.

The Seahawks defensive end has spent 14 weeks in the defensive line rotation Seattle has used since signing him and Michael Bennett in the offseason.

It has been an adjustment for Avril, who played a higher percentage of defensive snaps during his time with the Detroit Lions from 2008-12.

“It was tough,” Avril said. “Now, I am used to it just because it’s been going on for 14 weeks. Initially, getting and understanding why they were doing it was the hard part.

“I think health standpoint and going into later on in the playoffs, I think that’s part of the reason they went about it this way, too. To stay strong even through that stretch.”

Since joining the Seahawks, Avril has had two outlier games. He played 73 percent of the snaps in Week 3 and 45 percent in Week 9, according to the NFL. Otherwise, Avril has played 49 percent to 59 percent of the snaps.

Last year with Detroit, Avril played up to 81 percent of the snaps, reaching the 70 percent mark seven times during the season.

Despite the downturn in usage, there has been an uptick in production from Avril.

He leads the Seahawks with 7.5 sacks, two off his total from a full season last year and in 286 fewer snaps. Avril also has four forced fumbles, two short of his career high from 2011.

Though Avril is being rotated more often, this is arguably his best season because his efficiency has escalated. He’s 3.5 sacks away from a career high with four games to go.

“It’s taken a little bit of getting used to for every one of them,” Seahawks defensive line coach Travis Jones said. “All those guys were starters. (Bennett coming from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers), same thing. Same thing with (Chris) Clemons being here — he was starting here a lot and playing the whole game.”

Avril has become a master of the strip-sack, simultaneously knocking the ball from the quarterback during a sack. He didn’t start playing football until high school, then really learned the fundamentals while at Purdue.

Once he landed in Detroit as a third-round draft pick in 2008, the emphasis on the strip-sack began. He has been through drills there and in Seattle to sharpen that skill, and is now in a climate where coaches regularly preach, “It’s all about the ball.”

When he made his Seattle debut in Week 2 against this weekend’s foe, the San Francisco 49ers, Avril showed what was to come. He picked up a strip-sack when 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick tried to slide in the pocket, thinking Avril had overrun him.

Avril reversed his 260 pounds back toward Kaepernick and never went for the quarterback’s body. He went for Kaepernick’s elbow and forearm, jarring the ball loose.

That was one of four turnovers by Kaepernick that day.

It was just the start of an efficient season for Avril.

BROWNER WORKING APPEALS PROCESS

Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner awaits a ruling on his appeal of a one-year suspension the NFL recently tried to levy against him for a violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy.

The NFL’s substance-abuse policy, separate from its performance-enhancing drug policy, carries three penalty stages.

A first failed test moves a player to Stage 1. This was the case for Browner in the 2005 season while with the Denver Broncos.

There is no automatic game suspension in this stage.

Any subsequent violation within 90 days of being moved into Stage 1 — another positive test or failure to comply with a test, for example — moves a player to Stage 2. The same violations within a 24-month period can move a player to Stage 3.

Once in Stage 3, a player remains there for the rest of his career. His first violation within this stage is an automatic one-calendar-year suspension from the NFL.

Browner is pursuing a resolution with no suspension via the appeal process. After his initial violation, Browner was out of the league until joining the Seahawks in 2011. Yet, the league appears to have moved Browner to Stage 3 for not responding to requests for subsequent testing.

The News Tribune has confirmed that Browner turned down a deal offered by the league for a shorter suspension. John Clayton of ESPN was first to report that Browner declined a deal.

Browner’s argument is that he was erroneously moved to Stage 3, so any violation should not be applied to parameters surrounding players in Stage 3.

If Browner loses his appeal and is suspended, litigation from him likely will follow.

There is no current timeline for a resolution.

HIP WILL SIDELINE HARVIN ON SUNDAY

Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin (hip) will miss Sunday’s game in San Francisco, and coach Pete Carroll hopes he can make it through next week and play.

Harvin did in-line running Wednesday but did not practice all week.

“We’re looking forward to next week being a really important week,” Carroll said. “We think we got a shot at it. So it’s important for us to go ahead. I don’t care about making that statement now, that we’re hoping for a big week for us with him. It’ll be kind of week-to-week in a sense as we go forward.”

Browner (groin) is also out. He had very limited participation in practice Wednesday, but he did not respond well and did not practice again.

Were he healthy, he would be able to play during the appeal process.

todd.dybas@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/seahawks @Todd_Dybas

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