Cliff Avril tries to find his niche on Seahawks’ defensive line

RENTON — Cliff Avril was the new kid in town, bringing with him a glittering two-year, $13 million contract and all the expectations that go with being a hotly pursued free agent.

But through much of the May and June practices and minicamps, and the first few weeks of summer training camp, he could do little but watch his new team work, bothered first by a foot injury, then a hamstring. He wasn’t able to play until the second week of the season.

And while he arrived with a résumé that included 39.5 sacks in five seasons with Detroit, Avril for a while felt more like the odd man out.

“Most definitely,” Avril said. “You sign, you are on a new team. I was with Detroit for five years and I had the same defensive line coach, the same D-line players around me. So we knew what we had. But when you come to a new situation, they know what they have but they don’t know what I bring to the table. It’s all about just building that trust with those guys.”

Consider that bond well-constructed now as Avril has become exactly the pass-rushing force the Seahawks hoped they were getting.

After getting one sack in each of the past three games, Avril now leads the Seahawks with 7.5. He also has forced a fumble on a strip sack in each of the past two games and leads Seattle with four.

“I think for him, the first maybe four or five games was him kind of getting back and getting going again, where maybe everybody else had already that time to kind of prepare,’’ said defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. “Now, he’s really hitting his stride. I noticed it maybe four or five weeks ago myself, that I thought he’s really hitting his stride and his conditioning was great and just his get off (on the snap of the ball). Just like anything, it takes a while to get grooving on things.’’

Getting back in playing form wasn’t all that Avril had to adjust to, though.

Avril was one of three free agents Seattle signed to beef up the defensive line and pass rush, along with Tony McDaniel and Michael Bennett, building what is one of the deepest fronts in the NFL.

That, though, means lots of rotating for the players up front.

With Detroit, Avril estimated he usually played “70 to 80 percent of the snaps.” So far this season, he has officially played 51 percent.

“That can make you a little frustrated,” Avril said. “But once you actually understand your role and why they are doing it, it makes sense. And on top of that, being 11-1 makes it easier.”

Indeed, defensive line coach Travis Jones said communicating the roles for each player and the reasoning has been a key in making the defensive line rotation work.

“They are all competitors,” Jones said. “But they all see the benefits of us being able to play different guys, guys having different roles. So it’s worked out good.”

Avril’s role has also expanded a bit. In Detroit he played almost primarily on the left side. With Seattle, he can switch sides depending on the play call and scheme, and also sometimes drops into coverage.

“But as long as I get to pass rush, I don’t mind,” he said.

And despite being on the field a little less, Avril is on a pace with some of his best seasons in Detroit — he had a career-high 11 sacks in 2011 and 9.5 last season.


• Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said receiver Percy Harvin and cornerback Brandon Browner will not play Sunday against the 49ers. Harvin did not practice this week, and Carroll said Browner did not recover well from having practiced on Wednesday. Browner has been out since injuring his groin at Atlanta on Nov. 10.

Carroll said there was a chance Harvin could play next week.

“We are looking forward to next week being a really important week,” Carroll said.

• The NFL has yet to rule on Browner’s appeal of a possible suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. reported Friday that Browner turned down an offer of a shorter suspension than the one year originally proposed. reported Browner is contending his urine sample was not valid due to the collector using a damaged cup, and that he should not be a Stage 3 offender because he didn’t know he had to submit to testing while playing in the CFL from 2007-10.

• Carroll said James Carpenter will get the start at left guard ahead of Paul McQuistan. “He has earned that shot to do that,” Carroll said.

• Backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson is listed as questionable due to illness and did not take part in practice Thursday and Friday. He is the only other QB on Seattle’s active roster other than Russell Wilson. B.J. Daniels is on the practice squad.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or [email protected]

On Twitter @bcondotta