Avril, the now-former Seahawk, has turned into a mentor for a player the team is hoping can help replace him.
For two weeks this summer, class was in session early each morning at the Athletic Form gym on 6th Avenue South in Seattle. The teacher? Cliff Avril, a now-former Seahawk and budding talk-show host on KJR-AM 950.
The student? Quinton Jefferson, a 2016 fifth-round draft pick, and one of the players the Seahawks are counting on to replace Avril and Michael Bennett, who from 2013-17 formed the core of the team’s defensive line.
Or maybe instead of teacher-student, it’s really more, as Avril put it, “a big-brother, little-brother type of feel.’’ Avril says he’s always reached out to young players to let them know he’s available for any advice and guidance they want, and he also worked out this summer with Frank Clark.
But Jefferson, who played at Maryland, and Avril have become particularly close.
“Just always have been — me, him and Mike,’’ Jefferson said.
Earlier this week, after being told that coach Pete Carroll said if the season started today Jefferson would have a prominent role in the team’s defensive line rotation, Jefferson quickly pointed to Avril’s tutelage as a significant reason for his strong training camp.
The two not only worked out at Athletic Form with Jefferson’s trainer, Robel Woldu, where they practiced pass-rush moves, but also regularly watched film.
“Waking up ear-ly,’’ Avril says with a laugh, drawing out the last word. “Just running him through some different drills that I used to do that got me ready for camp.’’
And once camp began, Avril — who, on most days watched practice from his new radio show perch on-air from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. — could also offer daily reminders.
“Every day he’s like, ‘You’ve got to do at least 20 get-offs,’” Jefferson said, referring to practicing pass-rushing fundamentals. “And it’s just picking his brain on rushing the passer and my overall field awareness. I felt that definitely helped me coming into camp. I felt like I was way ahead of the ball and now the game is starting to slow down for me, just reading formations and putting myself in position to make plays.’’
One of Avril’s main pieces of advice to Jefferson was to simplify his pass-rush arsenal.
“That’s the one thing with young players,’’ Avril said. “They feel like they need 10 different pass rushes. I told him I was able to play 10 years in the league and I literally had maybe three. If you perfect those three and you have something to counter off of it, then you just keep hitting people with it.’’
Jefferson admits he fell into that trap when he came to the Seahawks in 2016. “You get into the league and you feel like ‘maybe I need to try something new or something different,’” he said. “You think you have to try all these new moves. But I really had to sit back and look at myself from college and my first couple years in the league and look at what I do best.’’
Jefferson said he realized he had two really good pass rush moves: scissors and cross-chops. “It’s like those are your two moves,’’ he said. “Those are your most successful moves, so those should be your moves. Let’s master them.’’
Scissors, Avril says, using hand motions to demonstrate, is basically what it sounds like — moving your hands in quick crossing motions “to knock their hands down before they (offensive linemen) punch you,’’ he says.
The cross-chop is essentially just a strong, downward chop of the arm aimed at an offensive lineman’s forearm to knock them off balance.
“He’s gotten really good at just being able to time out punches,’’ Avril said.
Jefferson, 25, has also played strong run defense in camp while filling primarily a role that is similar to that of Bennett — defensive end in the base defense and moving inside to tackle in the nickel. He had two tackles in Thursday’s preseason opener against the Colts.
The role he appears ticketed for is what the team envisioned when they made the rare decision — for the Seahawks, anyway — of moving up in the draft to take him, trading a fourth-round pick in 2017 to the Patriots in the process.
But injuries, specifically a knee issue that required surgery, held Jefferson to just three games as a rookie in 2016.
He said he was still not quite 100 percent during training camp a year ago when he ended up being released by the Seahawks in the cutdown to 53. Signed by the Rams, he was released there quickly when Aaron Donald finally reported.
Jefferson eventually landed back in Seattle to replace Avril when Avril suffered what turned out to be a career-ending injury against the Colts. But injuries again — this time a broken hand — held him to just six games. He says he’s now healthy, the knee and hand no longer issues, which, along with Avril’s tutelage and an improved understanding of the league, has the Seahawks thinking he could be on the verge of a breakout season.
“He’s very much settled in right now, very comfortable with what’s going on,’’ Carroll said. “He’s working really consistently. He’s got flexibility to play a few different spots for us, too. He’d certainly be in the rotations right now if were playing in an in-season game.”
Told of Carroll’s comment, Avril smiles. “That’s awesome,’’ he says. “That’s what I want to hear.’’
Avril says helping Jefferson is no different than what he has always offered younger players, having felt it the veterans’ job to guide those less experienced.
But in Avril’s first summer not preparing for a football season in his adult life — barely more than a year removed from what was the best season of his NFL career when he made the Pro Bowl for the first time following the 2016 season — staying close to the game any way he can is undoubtedly easing the transition into retirement.
Facing the field where Jefferson and the defensive linemen were going through their paces one morning, Avril says “I feel like I’m a big brother to all those kind of guys. So if there is any way I can help them out, I’m all in.’’
For Jefferson, the situation creates what can appear a somewhat weird circle of life: being groomed to replace those who have and will continue to groom him.
“I love those guys,’’ Jefferson said of Avril and Bennett. “But ultimately I want to be a starter, too. When Mike and Cliff came here, they were young guys trying to make a name for themselves, as well, and I feel like we are just keeping that cycle going.’’