Four faces were projected on massive screens above Super Bowl media day floor in the Prudential Center on Tuesday. None were Chris Clemons.
The mayhem was loud and widespread. Toward the back, in a section reserved for the lesser-in-demand defensive players, Clemons took his place.
Marshawn Lynch’s preference not to speak with the media is known. Clemons prefers the same approach.
He was cornered Tuesday, however. Which meant rare answers from the team’s eldest player were forthcoming.
This is Clemons’ 10th year in the league. After tearing an ACL last year during the playoff game against the Washington Redskins, there were questions about when – and if – he would be back.
Clemons returned in Week 2 to become part of a rotating Seahawks defensive line. His presence brought two things to the Seahawks: more depth and experience at defensive end, plus another fiery demeanor.
Clemons isn’t much for chit-chat or smiles. When he returned to the huddle this season, Richard Sherman was asked what it’s like to have Clemons back.
“It’s great,” Sherman said. “He’s still mad as all get-out. He comes into the huddle, ‘Shut up!’ Nobody was even talking.”
Clemons’ ACL injury had him wondering. The first thing he thought of was missing the divisional playoff game against Atlanta which ended the Seahawks season.
“The biggest issue last year with that injury is letting my teammates down,” Clemons said. “I know there are some things that you can’t control, but it was one of those situations where I felt like my presence could have been felt in the Atlanta game. Maybe it would have made a difference, maybe not.”
The ACL tear was Clemons’ first major injury. He watched college teammate Thomas Davis go through three ACL tears in three years. He was previously impressed with Davis’ recovery efforts. Having to do it himself increased his respect for Davis.
When Clemons returned, he found himself blended into the Seahawks’ rotating defensive line system. Seattle had obtained Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril during the offseason while Clemons worked on rebuilding strength in his leg. He was not offended when the team brought in two other players at his position.
“I had to look at it from a business perspective,” Clemons said. “They didn’t know how long it would take me to get back to playing. We didn’t know how long it would take me to get back to my form of playing.
“Actually, I was open to bringing Michael in and bringing Cliff in because it would help take the pressure off of me. They’ve done a great job all year long and they’ve helped me so much. Kind of guide me back into the role of playing the way I play football.”
After three consecutive seasons with at least 11 sacks for the Seahawks, Clemons was down to 4.5 this year. That’s partially explained by the decrease in playing time. It’s something all the Seattle ends have dealt with this season. Bennett, Avril and Clemons were all starters who played upward of 70 percent of the snaps at one point in their careers. This year, each has backtracked toward 40-50 percent on average.
Like Bennett and Avril, Clemons feels fresh even now because of the lightened workload.
“When it came down to it, we all knew we would play the same amount of snaps throughout the season, so it wasn’t really a big deal for any of us,” Clemons said.
At 32, Clemons said he’s going to keep playing as long as he’s effective. He has one year remaining on his contract with the Seahawks before becoming an unrestricted free agent.
Clemons will carry a hefty base salary of $7.5 million next year and an even heftier salary cap hit of $9,666,667. With Bennett becoming an unrestricted free agent, the Seahawks will have to decide if cutting Clemons to free up money is something that will benefit them more than retaining him.
No matter what they decide, Sunday’s Super Bowl is in front of Clemons and most of his talking is done.