#6 – Cliff Avril

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Let’s say you’re at a really cool birthday party and the host made a huge spread of your favorite desserts.  And you’re standing there and you can’t decide whether you want the brownie, the red velvet cupcake with the homemade frosting, the rice krispie treat, or the lemon square.  You just had a full meal, because they were out there barbecuing ribs and hot dogs and corn on the cob; you BARELY have room for even one of these tasty treats!

And yet, because you have no will power – and because you’re a grown-ass man – you grab one of each and eat until it hurts to breathe.  And it’s glorious.  Your life has only been prelude to this impossible moment.

That’s what it was like, last season, with our pass rush.  Just getting Chris Clemons back from injury would have been enough to make us a playoff team.  Only signing Michael Bennett in free agency would have been enough to make us a championship team.  But, tacking on Cliff Avril was absolutely GLUTTONOUS.  Avril helped turn us from just your ordinary championship team to one of the BEST teams of all time!

This year, as we’re coming down from our high, we’re coming to realize that we can’t have it all anymore.  We can STILL be a championship team, and in so doing become a dynasty, but it certainly won’t be easy.  Cliff Avril, last year, wasn’t an every-down player.  Indeed, no one on that line was, but Chris Clemons came close.  He was our starting LEO defensive end and could do it all – rush the passer, stop the run – and he didn’t have to leave the game in certain situations like Red Bryant and others.  That the team CHOSE to rotate Clemons out like they did with everyone else was a testament to our depth, but suffice it to say, these types of rotations aren’t commonplace.  The Seahawks are different, though, so I would expect more of the same with this year’s personnel.

With Clemons playing in Jacksonville, Cliff Avril is the next man up.  Michael Bennett was one of our big off-season priorities and we locked him up for the long term.  He plays 5-Tech end and effectively replaces Red Bryant on most downs.  When we still had Clemons last year, Bennett was often opposite him in passing downs.  And, when we were trying to ramp up the pass-rush, we’d slide Bennett inside and bring Avril down to play end opposite Clemons.  Technically, we can still DO that, and we very well might, but for our base defense, we still need a guy to start at LEO.  And that guy is Avril.

Cliff Avril is not a natural LEO defensive end.  He hasn’t had a lot of success going up against the left tackles of the league.  This is a great concern, because we’re going to NEED him to step up and fill Clemons’ void.

We’ve got a couple things going for us.  First and foremost, it’s a contract year for Avril.  Not that I’d have reason to expect anything less than his top effort, but you know with guys out to get their last big paydays, they always come with a little something extra.  Secondly, Avril is still surrounded by some of the most talented and underrated linemen in the league.  Michael Bennett is a relentless beast.  Brandon Mebane is as good as they get.  Kevin Williams is as talented as they come.  The rotation behind them is still rock solid.

We all know how important it is to have a good pass rush.  On this team, with this secondary, a good pass rush is absolutely lethal.  I won’t put it all on the defensive ends – because we can generate pressure from a number of different positions – but to get a pass rush with only four guys (like we did against the Broncos in the Super Bowl, for instance) makes us absolutely unstoppable.  And it doesn’t mean just sacks!  Knocking quarterbacks down, getting in their faces, rushing their throws, changing their arm angles, batting balls up in the air:  they’re all part of a dominant pass rush.  And they’re all things that Cliff Avril happens to do very well.

I won’t put a number on what we need from Avril.  Yeah, double-digit sacks would be nice.  I just want him healthy and in there, every game.  Cliff Avril is a guy other teams have to account for and gameplan against.  He makes those around him better.  And, who knows, maybe someone else steps up and handles the LEO spot just as well, leaving us to slide Bennett inside again and bring Avril from the other end spot.  Anything is possible.

Of course, it’s also possible that Avril just won’t take to the LEO end.  If he struggles, and is handled in most one-on-one situations, we’re gonna have a bad time.  So, let’s hope he’s got what it takes to be as versatile as this team needs.

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