I started breaking down football as an analyst in 2007, on a weekly basis in 2009, and in 2010 I broke down every game at least twice. I saw every snap of Chris Clemons' time in Seattle probably more than I've watched old games. I know this guy in and out. When the Seahawks brought him back, I thought it was an April Fools joke. It seemed unlikely. I guess it shouldn't have.
Pete Carroll and John Schneider have always signed talented-but-aging linemen, from Raheem Brock to Kevin Williams. They aren't afraid to nab that veteran presence. It's rare though, in sports, to bring a guy back unless you have no choice. The last guy Seattle tried this with was Koren Robinson after all their starting receivers died in 2008, and we were left with Keary Colbert and TJ Seriouslywhosignedthisguysomeonetellme.
Getting Clemons back though feels like nostalgia and hope, all at the same time. My first memory of Chris is the controversy of course. Seattle traded Daryl Tapp for the oft-injured tall drink of water linebacker and a 4th round selection.. Everyone here hated the move. I will say that while I was on the side of liking the Tapp trade, I liked the pick more than the player we got at the time.
That was, until I saw him in the preseason that year. The original posts I wrote for a forum at the time, and the notes I made, no longer exist. However, I do remember a few things I said on Clemons that year.
1) "He has everything. Bull rush, speed rush, spin move, swim moves. If you can do it in Madden, this guy does it in real life."
2) "My god is Chris Clemons long. I'm pretty sure if his ankle had an itch, he could scratch it while standing up."
I said this second quote while watching Clem destroy San Diego's tackles in that big win back in 2010, where Leon Washington did his best Charlie Rodgers impression. (If you don't know who that is, look him up. Former Seahawk, pretty sweet at special teams.)
At one point in that game, Clemons got into the pads of a 3rd string left tackle so much that I thought he was choking the guy. I laughed watching the play. Chris Clemons was must-watch television for me every week. His 6'4, 250+ pound frame was seen as too small to face conventional 315 pound, 6'6 tackles with reach to the moon. It was odd, to say the least, to watch him grow week by week as a pass rusher in Pete's system.
Clemons became the proof Pete needed that his front could work -- with Red Bryant bookending the other edge on run downs. It was week to week, but Clemons still had much to prove. He wasn't a run support guy. He could get some leverage, but he lost more than a starting D-end should.
So in his second year, with more benefit of the doubt than acceptance, we all witnessed Chris Clemons become a complete player. Even when we mention in passing here the circumstances of his arrival, it's almost as if it was never even a question how good he would be.
Chris Clemons became a sack artist, but also so good at run stop leverage that it became almost impossible to run left on key downs. While Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril define a pass rush duo, Chris Clemons and Brandon Mebane anchored one of the best run stuff units in football. Especially in short yardage.
But for as good as Clemons was as a rusher and a run stopper, he was even better at being a decoy in the exotic blitz looks that defined Pete, Gus Bradley and then Dan Quinn. If you watch those looks, whether it was Clem dropping into coverage or stunting inside or just attacking a gap, you could be sure he was going to clear a lane for Malcolm Smith or KJ Wright. Those edges were always sure to be short and clean if Clem was on the case in those exotic looks.
He piled up 38 sacks in 4 seasons with the Seahawks and was Seattle's most prolific pass rusher in quite a few years -- since maybe Phillip Daniels. (Agree?) And now he's back. In a reduced role, as we all figure, but what can he offer in that capacity? It's clearly not enough to replace Bruce Irvin because Clemons won't be an every down player. Cassius Marsh, Frank Clark and Jordan Hill are hopefully a future, so Clemons is a stop gap.
It's not his abilities alone. It's consistency. The man clearly put the work in and made sure he became an all around player -- run and pass. You name it, he did it. Bruce never caught on. There's an art form to run stops, there's a patience to pass rush. Bruce was an untamed beast. Marsh and Clark aren't as raw as Bruce was. Clemons is going to offer technical examples for success. People say Michael Bennett can do that, but Bennett wins his battles mostly from the inside and that's far different than winning on the edge.
Clemons knows how to do it.
I could see him getting about 15 snaps a game in more complex looks. With his background in coverage and his pass rush skills from both sides he'll work as a match up swiss army knife. There's nothing he can't offer at least a few times a game. Do I think he'll be a game breaker? No, but every team that strives for a championship will need guys like Clemons to help provide those few impact plays.
Jim Mora once said, "I need nail eaters, I need guys with grit. I need some dirtbags "
Chris Clemons has more grit than Jim Mora could possibly imagine. Welcome home Chris.