Clemons is a ’tweener player who has been playing a hybrid position for the Seattle Seahawks since they acquired him in a March trade with the Eagles. There are others in line at the defensive end spot coach Pete Carroll brought with him from the University of Southern California – Nick Reed, Foley and Davis. But the line forms behind Clemons.
He has played linebacker as well as the more traditional defensive end position, but neither plays to Clemons’ strengths as well as the “Leo” role.
“I like the position I’m playing now – which is the ‘Leo’ spot,” Clemons said Tuesday after the team’s first OTA practice of the offseason. “And I’m having fun doing it.”
Clemons can thank Carroll, for acquiring him and also the position he is playing.
Carroll learned the spot – then called “Elephant” – as the defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers (1995-96) under coach George Seifert. He then used it when he was the head coach with the New England Patriots (1997-99) and at USC.
“‘Elephant’ was just an e-word to designate a guy as being different from the regular defensive end,” Carroll explained.
Seifert had used the spot to feature the pass-rush skills of Fred Dean and Charles Haley. Dean produced 17½ sacks in 1983, Seifert’s first as defensive coordinator for the 49ers, and Haley had 12 sacks in 1986 and 11½ in 1988 – as well as 10½ in 1989 and 16 in 1990, after Seifert was promoted to head coach.
Carroll got an 11-sack season from Chris Doleman in 1996 with the 49ers and a nine-sack season from Willie McGinest at that spot in 1999, his final season as coach of the Patriots.
“It’s a position that can take on different sizes and shapes, but it is a spot – a little bit of a hybrid position – that is kind of a linebacker, kind of a defensive end,” Carroll said. “We picture it as a speed-oriented guy.”
“Elephant” became “Leo” when Carroll got to USC.
“We adopted their term and made him an ‘L’ instead of an ‘E’,” he said.
Clemons is playing the “Leo” spot because, as Carroll put it, “Chris is kind of in that mode.”
Clemons also is in a happier place, after two seasons of getting limited snaps with the Eagles. He collected eight of his career 17 sacks in 2007, while playing for the Oakland Raiders. He had seven sacks combined the past two seasons.
“Before people go and make conceptions about me as a player, they need to look at how much I played in Philly,” he said. “When I got to Philly, they told me that I was going to play a role. When the season started, I didn’t play that role until halfway through the season.”
So the disparity in his sack totals the past three seasons is equal to the discrepancy in the number of downs he played: From 380 in Oakland in ’07 to somewhere between 100 and 120 per season in Philadelphia.
“I mean, you do the math,” he said. “But I look at that as something that’s not even worth talking about. That happened at that team, and I’m not even there anymore. So I don’t worry about what happened in the past.”
No, Clemons is all about the present, the future and his role as “Leo” in a Seahawks defense that has to find a way to generate more than the 28 sacks the team had last season.
That’s why word of his trade to the Seahawks – alone with a fourth-round draft choice that became defensive E.J. Wilson for defensive end Darryl Tapp – came at a good time for Clemons.
“Coach (Andy) Reid told me I would get an opportunity to start out here in Seattle, and I told him, ‘Thank you,’ ” Clemons said. “Because coach Carroll really wanted me here, and Gus (Bradley, the defensive coordinator) really wanted me here, and D.Q. (line coach Dan Quinn) really wanted me here.”
The Seahawks haven’t had a player produce double-digit sacks since just-retired Patrick Kerney collected 14½ in 2007. Last year, Kerney led the club with five. In 2008, Tapp and defensive tackle Brandon Mebane shared the lead with 5½.
“This new role is something that I’m comfortable doing,” Clemons said. “You get to do all of the things you do as a linebacker and you get to do things you do as a defensive end. I’m comfortable in both those positions, which is why I think coach Carroll wanted me to play this position.”
Which is: To generate more consistent production from that side of the line; the end spot that lines up away from the tight end, and gets after the quarterback.
“So if I’m the starter opening day, who knows (what amount) my sacks could be next year,” Clemons said, looking forward to the challenge.