The Seahawks in the off-season addressed their greatest need — improving the pass rush — by signing DE Cliff Avril and DT Michael Bennett. Paired for the first time against the 49ers, they helped pressure Colin Kaepernick into three interceptions, forced a fumble and posted two of Seattle’s four sacks.
It was Avril who made his season debut Sunday against one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, showing why the club signed him to a two-year, $13 million contract, including a $5 million signing bonus. He spent the past five years with the Lions and posted 39.5 sacks. Against the 49ers he added one to that total and caused a fumble.
“I thought he looked really good,” coach Pete Carroll said. “He was physical, jumped off the football and had a chance for three sacks. He was definitely a factor.”
Avril missed all preseason and didn’t start practicing until a few weeks ago.
“I’ve been out basically since I’ve gotten here,” he said. “It felt good to get out here and be able to show my teammates I can play ball a little bit. I’m definitely knocking some rust off. I haven’t played football since last December so I was still getting a feel for it.”
The Seahawks will rely on Avril and Bennett in passing situations until they welcome back Bruce Irvin (serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL substance abuse policy) and Chris Clemons (recovering from tearing his ACL against the Redskins in the NFC wild card game).
Clemons was limited in Wednesday’s practice, but Carroll said thanks to his rigorous rehab program, he could play Sunday when the Seahawks face the Jaguars at CenturyLink Field.
“He’s not going to have to get into football shape,” Carroll said. “He’s in better shape than most of our guys, from the work he’s done.”
Which should scare offensive lines that have to play at CenturyLink, where the intense crowd noise helps ends get a split-second jump on tackles who can’t hear calls at the line of scrimmage.
Avril said he noticed the difference after spending the last five years playing home games at Ford Field, predominantly on the left side of the defensive line. In defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s system, he plays both.
That should help when Clemons returns.
“It just shows you the potential that we have. We haven’t reached it,” Avril said. “We still have Clemons coming back. I think once everybody’s back we can continue to do some good things.”
Okung will miss Sunday, and probably more
Through the two first weeks, most of the problems have been on offense, though that isn’t necessarily a condemning reality — especially considering Seattle’s defense held Cam Newton and Kaepernick to an average of 113 passing yards.
But Carroll was atypically blunt Wednesday when asked about a unit that has yet to meet his expectations.
“I’m not real happy with anything in the overall offense right now,” he said.
The situation will not be helped by the loss of Russell Okung, who had a toe injury in the first half of Sunday’s rout. He didn’t return to the game. Carroll wouldn’t specify the nature of the injury, but said Okung was seeking a second medical opinion beyond Seattle. Starting left guard Paul McQuistan slid over Sunday to replace Okung and will do so against Jacksonville, this time with a week of practice at the new position.
McQuistan struggled trying to contain San Francisco DE Aldon Smith.
Offensive line coach Tom Cable could have opted to insert rookies Michael Bowie or Alvin Bailey in his stead. But Cable likes McQuistan’s experience. He started the last four games of the 2011 season at left tackle.
“He’s always been a guard/tackle, so there’s a background there,” Cable said. “He did a really nice job for not taking any snaps (in practice). It will be cool for him to get reps this week.”
Shoring up problems with the line will be key to helping jump-start a group that has had problems with penalties dating back to the preseason. Against San Francisco, nine of the Seahawks’ 10 penalties were issued against the offense; six of them were holding calls. The unit finished with 290 total yards.
“Our execution has been okay, but we’ve had things that hurt us get into a flow,” said offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. “We’re executing our plays really well, but we end up having (nine) penalties on offense last week. That ends up hurting your execution.”
Though it didn’t prevent them from a blowout win against a division rival.
Still, the avoidable flags remained an irksome topic three days later. WR Sidney Rice, called for two holds, spun the ball at the feet of a defender and drew a personal foul when the Seahawks were driving at the end of the first half.
Asked if Rice will spin the ball again after making a reception, Bevell was straight:
“I’m betting no.”
RB Spencer Ware has a sprained ankle, Carroll said. If he can’t play Sunday, RB Christine Michael will make his NFL debut. Michael wasn’t injured but was listed as inactive Sunday.
OL J.R. Sweezy didn’t practice (back), while CB Brandon Browner (hamstring) and Breno Giacomini (knee) were limited.