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Seahawks expect big year out of Cliff Avril

Defensive end Cliff Avril enters his second season with Seattle after five with Detroit. (Associated Press)
Defensive end Cliff Avril enters his second season with Seattle after five with Detroit. (Associated Press)

RENTON, Wash. – Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett has big goals for one member of the Seattle line this season.

But it’s not Bennett himself.

Instead, he points to the other end of the line and says this of Cliff Avril: “I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s up for defensive MVP this year.”

Bennett’s reasoning?

Avril, 28, is in the prime of his career. And unlike a season ago, when he was finding his way with the Seahawks and also saw his snaps reduced from previous seasons due to a deep rotation up front, Avril figures to be a constant presence on defense.

“Add four or five sacks to what he got last year (eight), shoot, that’s going to be great,” Bennett said.

If so, then maybe Avril will finally get the kind of offseason payoff he missed out on in 2013, when his signing with Seattle was regarded as one of the best bargains in the NFL.

Not that Avril is complaining.

“I mean, I’m not making chump change,” said Avril, who signed a two-year deal with Seattle in 2013 that could be worth as much as $15.1 million. “I’m blessed just to be playing ball.”

Still, in NFL circles, the perception was that Avril was one of the victims of a softer-than-expected market for defensive ends in 2013, a year when the Seahawks also got Bennett on a one-year, $5 million deal (Bennett re-upped this offseason with a four-year deal worth as much as $28.5 million).

At the time of his signing, though, Avril foreshadowed what may be about to come.

“It gives me a chance to feel out the position (his first season) and get a good feel for it and then the following year probably dominate, hopefully,” Avril said in March 2013.

Avril indeed needed time to adjust last year after having played his first five NFL seasons in Detroit. In his first year in Seattle he was largely used in passing downs – 53.2 percent of the snaps compared with 66 percent his final season in Detroit.

Now, though, with Chris Clemons and Red Bryant in Jacksonville, the Seahawks are likely to rely a bit more on Avril and Bennett.

“He’ll be starting in our base and nickel, so naturally he will play more plays just for that,” Seahawks defensive-line coach Travis Jones said.

Avril started just three times in 19 games last season. But one came in the Super Bowl, when Seattle opened in a nickel defense to combat Denver’s Peyton Manning-led offense. Avril got credit for a safety on the first play when a faulty snap flew into the end zone. Later, he put the hit on Manning that forced the errant pass picked off by Malcolm Smith and returned for a touchdown.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is expecting those kinds of games to be regular occurrences this season, saying “he’s a guy that we are really, really counting on. He proved that to us midway through the year on and certainly through the finish of last season.”

Avril looked in midseason form Friday against the Chargers, several times easily beating San Diego tackle D.J. Fluker to get into the San Diego backfield.

“He’s way ahead of where he was last year at this time,” Carroll said, noting that being healthy this offseason has allowed Avril to come to camp in better shape. “Miles ahead. He wasn’t even practicing yet with us this time last year.”

As for where he’ll be this time next year, Avril said that’s a concern for later.

“It is a contract year, but I’m not thinking about it,” he said. “For me, a repeat (Super Bowl) would be the best reward, and then the contract stuff will clearly play itself out.”