By Chris Cluff
Chris Clemons, DE #91
Hometown: Griffin, GA
Experience: 8 years
It was a first half never seen from a Seattle player before — a performance that conjured memories of the late Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas.
That’s because Chris Clemons––in a relentless, whirling-dervish performance Monday against Green Bay––tied Thomas’ NFL record of four sacks in a first half. In fact, Clemons’ four bags of Aaron Rodgers equaled a team record. And he got them all in the second quarter.
Thomas, who set the NFL record of eight sacks in a game against Dave Krieg and the Seahawks in 1991, added the first-half record against San Diego in 1992.
Clemons, who has had 11 sacks in each of his first two seasons in Seattle, already has five this year, putting him on pace for 26.
Not bad for a former journeyman pass rusher the Philadelphia Eagles were so ready to get rid of that they gave him and a fourth-round draft pick to Seattle for another end, Darryl Tapp, in 2010. Pete Carroll had a feeling Clemons would fit the Leo role in his defense.
“Really and truly, nobody else really gave me that opportunity,” Clemons told 710 AM radio. “When I first got here, Coach told me that I had an opportunity to start. Everyone (else) wanted me to rush on third down, not thinking that I could play against the run for some strange reason. So when I got here, coach Carroll told me, ‘You’ve got a chance to start.’ So my thing was take advantage of the opportunity that I had.”
Clemons has proven to be just as solid against the run as he has been against the pass — he had 49 tackles in 2010 and 51 in 2011.
Even though Clemons led the Hawks in sacks the last two seasons, the pass rush was otherwise lacking, and the team drafted Bruce Irvin in the first round to complement Clemons.
Clemons decided to hold out for a new deal during offseason camps. Knowing Irvin would not be ready to start and they would still need Clemons and his all-around game, the Hawks were happy to come up with an extension for the 30-year-old end. The result: a three-year deal worth $22 million, plus $4 million more in sack incentives. He’s off to a good start in hitting those.
Meanwhile, after a slow start to the season, Irvin added two sacks himself Monday. Clemons told 710 AM that he expected them to get to Rodgers.
“I knew they would bring the chip (block) to my side and I told him (Irvin) that he had to start off fast,” Clemons said. “That’s exactly what he did. The first series, he ended up with a sack, and after that I knew that they’d have to start changing their protections and they would leave me backside with one-on-one protection with (left tackle Marshall) Newhouse. So that was the way I was going to be able to actually get free. I knew we could work on him all game long.”
With four sacks, Clemons tied Jacob Green, Michael Sinclair, Michael McCrary and Tapp for most QB kills in a game by a Seahawk.
In less than three seasons, Clemons already is ninth on the team’s sack list, with 27. He passed Patrick Kerney and Julian Peterson (both with 24.5) on Monday, and he could crack the top five over the next two years.
Not bad for an undersized pass-rushing end the Hawks got on the cheap from Philadelphia and decided to try as a full-time starter.
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Chris Cluff worked as a sports editor and writer for The Seattle Times for 11 years and has written two books on the Seattle Seahawks. Since leaving the Times, he has written about the Seahawks and Seattle sports for Bleacher Report and the blog he shares with a fellow sportswriter, outsidethepressbox.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.