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Chris Clemons Gets Contract Extension: Implications for Seahawks' Defense

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As you've probably already seen, the Seahawks have extended defensive end Chris Clemons' contract, giving him a raise in 2012 and tacking on the 2013 and 2014 seasons; Jason La Canfora is reporting it averages out to be $7 million per year. The team has yet to announce it formally, nor have the specific money figures been disclosed, but generally speaking this is a bit of good news for Seahawks fans.

First, Clemons will now be at training camp, should have plenty of time to get up to speed and back in shape, and a protracted holdout has been avoided. You've seen it many, many times in the past -- a very good player holds out, misses camp, misses the preseason, and gets the deal done at the 11th hour, all the while working out at home by themselves; once back with the team, in their first game of the season, they pull a hamstring, or look lost, or slow, or out of shape. The fact is, training camp and the preseason are important for a player to get back in game shape, something that's pretty damn difficult to do on your own. So, to me, the biggest part of this deal getting done now is that Clem will not miss the next two months of strict conditioning and running in game-type situations. Reps.

Second, Chris Clemons' tutelage of first-round pick Bruce Irvin will be important in these next couple of weeks. If you were at training camp last year, you'd have seen Clemons taking a lot of extra time and effort to coach up some of the younger players at his spot, including Jameson Konz, who had just made the switch to defense. With Clemons' deal done, I have no doubt that he will take Irvin under his wing and begin to teach him the intricacies and nuances of playing the LEO position in Pete Carroll's defense, and more simply, just the subtleties and techniques of playing a normal defensive end position in a 4-3.

Remember, Irvin largely played in a 3-3-5 stack defense at West Virginia in a 5-tech alignment, similar to a defensive end in a 3-4's role, and complained afterwards that he was never really coached up on how to pass rush. Whether he's at the LEO or opposite Clemons in more base 4-3 looks, he'll be aligned further outside on the line, against tackles and tight ends, with different, typically one-gap, assignments. Probably most important, Irvin will now see the majority of his snaps in with Clemons on the field with him instead of taking Clemons' place. Though I'm sure they'll teach Irvin to play the LEO position in time, he should get the majority of his snaps in training camp where he should be getting them this season during games, opposite Chris Clemons, switching out with Red Bryant on passing downs, essentially what Raheem Brock did last season. Repetitions there are probably more important than we can even imagine for a rookie that's expected to make a big impact on day one.

On a bigger scale, getting Clemons locked up for the next couple of seasons (I'll just assume he'll be here in 2012 and 2013 at least -- easy guess is that his final year won't include much in guaranteed money) should help the Seahawks to improve their pass rush. Fact is, teams need more than one pass rushing defensive end to really be effective, and pairing Clemons with Irvin and adding Jason Jones and Jaye Howard into the mix should give the Seahawks more multiplicity and versatility in their defensive line groupings and formations. According to Football Outsiders' metrics, Seattle finished 21st in the league their total pressure percentage last season (pressures per pass play); they were 25th in the league on plays where they got pressure, and 3rd in the NFL in plays without pressure. This makes sense -- with their elite starting defensive backfield and long, rangy linebackers and nickelbacks, the Hawks are set up better to defense the pass when no pressure is applied, but they'd likely prefer to have a little more balance (ranked 30th in the difference between their defense with and without pressure).

To get more pressure, they need personnel that can effectively rush the passer or blitz when called upon. Obviously, Clemons has been their best pass rusher of the past two seasons so that will be important but he also brings a versatility to the table that could allow the Seahawks to get others involved. I.e., be more multiple, more creative, and incorporate zone blitzes using defensive backs and linebackers.

Football Outsiders' Almanac also shared the fact that outside of Atlanta's John Abraham, no defensive lineman in the NFL dropped back into coverage on a zone blitz more last season than Chris Clemons. In zone blitz concepts, this will usually mean the Hawks will bring pressure from somewhere else (Leroy Hill had four sacks last year) and designate Clem to drop into a short zone, hopefully confusing the quarterback or baiting him into throwing his 'hot route' -- a quick pass in the event of a blitz -- to a covered zone; when this happens you'll usually hear the quarterback say "I never even saw the defender there".

Clemons nearly came down with an interception in one of these plays against Caleb Hanie and the Bears last year, and he picked off Kyle Orton on this type of thing in the preseason against the Broncos (just off memory, there were probably several more of these examples). Regardless, with Clemons abilities in this area, coupled with the Seahawks' new found speed on defense, I can see Gus Bradley experimenting more with interesting blitz packages that utilize the personnel now available to him. It's also noteworthy to this point that Jason Jones is well known for his ability to drop into short zone coverage. Needless to say, it's going to be interesting to see what the Seahawks roll out with their zone blitzes.

That's all I got right now, and we'll follow up with another post once the contract numbers are official.