By Clare Farnsworth, Seahawks.com
Cliff Avril is a football player, and a very productive one, at that.
But the defensive end who was the Seahawks’ big free-agent addition this offseason has been a spectator of football for far too long while dealing with a hamstring injury.
“Oh my goodness, it’s terrible not being out there with your teammates, not being able to help them win,” Avril said in the locker room at Virginia Mason Athletic Center on Wednesday, before the Seahawks held their first practice to prepare for Sunday night’s nationally televised home opener against the San Francisco 49ers at CenturyLink Field.
Avril was limited once practice began. But not as limited as last week, when it became apparent early that he would be inactive for the season opener against the Panthers in Carolina last Sunday – just as he had been for the four preseason games.
He got some reps as the Leo end in the nickel defense. He also alternated at the position during the final full-team drill with O’Brien Schofield, who started against the Panthers and had the Seahawks’ only sack of quarterback Cam Newton.
Wednesday’s practice was a needed step for Avril, who produced 29 sacks the past three seasons for the Detroit Lions before signing with the Seahawks in March.
“No question I’m glad to see Cliff back out here,” first-year defensive line coach Travis Jones said after practice. “He’s been chomping at the bit to get back out and go to work. He’s a veteran player who has had a little bit of a setback and he’s been really hungry to get back out on the field and get back out with his new teammates.”
Ah, those new teammates. Standing and watching is not the first impression Avril had in mind. He missed only three games the past three seasons with the Lions, and Sunday was the first time he had missed a season opener since being selected in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft.
“Frustrating. Very, very frustrating,” he said.
While Avril has been sidelined, he has taken measures to assure he won’t be blindsided when he does return. He plans to be prepared, not just ready.
“I try to get little keys I’ve picked up on throughout the week from watching film to see if they stand true, and try to help the guys out with pass rushing or just giving little things you see from the sideline you may not see while you’re in the game,” he said. “Just being another set of eyes for the guys.”
Signing Avril was a needed “get” for the Seahawks because coach Pete Carroll set improving the pass rush as an offseason priority for the second consecutive year, but also because he would provide insurance at the Leo end spot because sack leader Chris Clemons had surgery in January to repair ligament and meniscus damage in his left knee and incumbent backup Bruce Irvin has been suspended for the first four games.
But with Avril also out, the Leo role has fallen to Schofield, an outside linebacker for the Arizona Cardinals last season who was claimed in late July after being waived.
Sunday night’s game is the type Avril signed with the Seahawks to play in – national TV, defending NFC Champions, big rivalry, winner remains at least tied for the division lead.
“Most definitely,” Avril said. “You come for a big, huge game like this against a great team. We have a good team and we just look forward to having a good game and hopefully pulling out the win.”
Whether Avril plays against the 49ers remains to be seen. When you’ve been out as long as he has, how he responds to what he did on Wednesday will determine how much he can do on Thursday – and so on and so on as the week progresses.
“I got a chance to see him get off the ball a little bit, turn the corner some,” Jones said of Wednesday’s first step. “He did a good job with the reps he was in there and I’m very encouraged. We’ll give him a little more each day and see how he finishes at the end of the week.”
If Avril has anything to say about it, the week will end with him playing his first game for the Seahawks.
“I can see the light a little bit,” he said, “so hopefully I can get out there this weekend.”