RENTON, Washington — Cliff Avril has experienced both ends of the spectrum during his NFL career.
The ultimate high of winning the Super Bowl in Seattle. And the ultimate low of a winless season in the initial stages of his career with Detroit.
His past and present collide on Monday night when Avril and the Seahawks host the Lions. After spending his first five seasons in the NFL with Detroit, Avril signed with Seattle before the 2013 season and was a reason that season ended with the Seahawks' first Super Bowl title.
Now he gets to face his old team for the first time.
"He creates some problems for you. He's fast, very athletic and disruptive. He's a pretty unique athlete," Detroit coach Jim Caldwell said.
On a defense as talented as the Seahawks', Avril sometimes gets lost. He's not part of the Legion of Boom secondary, and he's not going to provide colorful sound bites like fellow defensive end Michael Bennett.
Including this season, Avril has just 14 sacks in 34 regular-season games since joining the Seahawks. Yet, he was a priority for Seattle when the Seahawks signed him to a contract extension before the end of last season.
The reason is a unique mix of athleticism and skill for a defensive end that doesn't always show up in the stats. When Avril played in Detroit, he was asked to rush from just one side of the defense, as is common in many 4-3 systems. In Seattle, he's been asked to do far more.
"Then you come to a scheme like this, the LEO position, you're dropping sometimes, they just ask you to do more in this system," Avril said. "To be able to play both sides and to cover and to understand certain passing concepts and things like that. In Detroit it was just go to the quarterback."
His value may never have been more evident than during the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl last February. With Avril out because of a concussion, Seattle's pass rush couldn't fluster Tom Brady and New England rallied from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
Avril flashed that pass rushing skill first in Detroit. He had 20 ½ sacks his final two seasons with the Lions. He was a rookie in 2008 when the Lions slogged through an 0-16 record. At that time, he was only worried about trying to prove his value for the future. And he didn't want to experience that kind of losing again.
"You wanted to just be some kind of bright spot for the following year," Avril said. "I knew the coaching staff and all of that was going to change. For me, it was about getting on the field and making plays."
While Avril has just one sack so far this season, he's getting notice for his play. Pro Football Focus has graded Avril as the best defensive end playing in a 4-3 system through the first three weeks of the season. He's had five official quarterback hits and two passes defensed.
"I guess it just puts focus on my game in general. Not just sacks but how I'm playing the run or the pressures and hits. I guess people finally care about those too," Avril said. "I think that's really all it says. For me it's just to keep grinding and keep getting better and keep making the plays I'm supposed to make and hopefully we get sacks doing that."