Cliff Avril: Seahawks’ D-line has best depth since 2013, ‘can be special’
Unlike in 2019 and 2020, the Seahawks are set to enter the 2021 season in great shape on the defensive line.
In 2019, that group was one of the worst in the NFL, finishing the year with just 28 sacks. In 2020, Seattle’s defensive line started slow, but with the acquisition of defensive end Carlos Dunlap, the Seahawks’ defensive front helped the team finish seventh in the NFL in sacks.
Now, the Seahawks have a good mix of young players and established veterans on the line. Just how good of depth does Seattle have at defensive line?
“This is, I think, the deepest defensive line that the Seahawks have had from a depth perspective since the Super Bowl year, the year we won the Super Bowl (in 2013),” former Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril told 710 ESPN Seattle’s Wyman and Bob on Wednesday. “Obviously you’ve got to go out and perform with the depth, but this is the most depth they’ve had from guys that are productive or have been productive collectively.”
Avril knows a thing or two about depth on the defensive line.
In the aforementioned 2013 season, Avril and fellow veteran lineman Michael Bennett were rotational pieces for Seattle, which had the league’s top defense that year in part because of a very deep and talented pass rush rotation. Avril thinks the Seahawks’ defensive line in 2021 has the potential to be a force like in 2013.
“Just seeing all these guys collectively, I think it can be special,” he said. “It’s going to take … the veteran players, the Carlos Dunlaps, it’s going to take those guys to bring those young players along. But as far as the depth and potential, man, I’m excited to see what they’re going to do up front because again, this is definitely the deepest (group) I’ve seen the Seahawks (have in a while) … It excites me to see the potential of what these guys can do with all the depth and nothing dropping off when guys get tired and have to come off the field.”
Avril also shared his thoughts on two defensive linemen in particular he’s excited to watch in 2021.
First is one of Seattle’s biggest offseason additions: Kerry Hyder Jr., who had 8.5 sacks for the San Francisco 49ers last season.
“I love his game right? … When I see Hyder in that four-point stance and just getting out of his stance and how explosive he is, he reminds me of myself in so many ways when I was in the nine-technique in Detroit (in my first four NFL seasons),” Avril said. “I’m excited to see him because he does a lot of great things … I think he’s going to bring a lot more than people expect to the game for the Seahawks up front. I think he can play inside as well, and he’s just elusive on the edge.”
Hyder is also a big part of why Avril is excited about Seattle’s defensive line depth.
“Hyder plays a big role in why I think they’re going to have a lot of success up front,” he said.
The other defensive lineman Avril gave some insight on is third-year lineman L.J. Collier, who was Seattle’s first-round pick in 2019.
Collier was injured and rarely played as a rookie in 2019, but Avril thinks that being on the bench may have helped in Collier’s development early on in his NFL career.
“He was a little banged up (as a rookie) and he also had some guys in front of him that were pretty good, too,” Avril said. “Sometimes the best thing for young players is to sit and watch the game. I know people want to see them play immediately, but seeing the speed of the game is extremely important because it’s a big difference from college to the pros. And I think with L.J., he’s just now catching his wind, he’s figuring things out.”
In 2019, Collier recorded just three tackles while failing to sack or hit the quarterback in 11 games. In 2020, he started all 16 games for the Seahawks and had three sacks, four tackles for loss, seven quarterback hits and played big roles in two of Seattle’s biggest plays of the first half of 2020 — a fourth-down stop of New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton on the final play of Week 2, and a safety against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 3.
“He’s athletic as all get out. He’s aggressive with his hands. He just needed some time to see the game,” Avril said of Collier. “And me working with him from time to time as well, I’m seeing how good he can be. He has instincts and he has heart … That’s (more important) than your (40-yard dash) time.”
Avril has high hopes for Collier as he enters his third NFL season in 2021.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do because having the experience under his belt, having Jarran Reed in the room with him last year, having some veteran players kind of showing him the way, I’ve seen a big difference from last year to this year in how he trains as well,” Avril said. “I’m looking forward to what he brings to the D-line this year.”
Listen to the full conversation with Avril at this link or in the player below.