Jadeveon Clowney was born and raised in South Carolina. He played college football for The Palmetto State’s flagship university.
He played his first five years in the NFL in Houston.
So, yeah, his first month in Seattle has been...odd.
“The weather is really the craziest thing about this place that’s got me,” Clowney said with a chuckle Monday—the day before it hailed in Seattle and snowed in the mountain passes just to the east.
“It doesn’t get hot. It’s crazy. It’s always lookin’ foggy, some weird way.
“I don’t know. I just be like, ‘This is the craziest weather, ever.’”
Clowney has felt rain in all three of the team’s home games so far this season. He was in the team’s suburban hotel the night before the opener at CenturyLink Field when lightning ripped through the Puget Sound for hours on first Saturday night of September. It’s barely been above 70 degrees in the month plus one week he’s been in Seattle. That’s about 20 degrees cooler and far less humid than Houston or South Carolina is in September.
“That’s the only thing that’s been crazy to me, is the weather,” he said. “It’s crazy here.”
Who’s going to tell him the Northwest’s autumn rains haven’t really started yet? Or that it will be getting dark at, oh, about 3 o’clock in the afternoon this winter?
By then, the Seahawks (4-1) hope their three-time Pro Bowl pass rusher is fully acclimated from the trade Sept. 1 that brought him from the Texans to this cool, gray, wet place.
They need him to be. Sunday at Cleveland (2-3) against quarterback Baker Mayfield would be a nice time and place to accelerate that process.
Clowney and Ziggy Ansah, Seattle’s new, Pro Bowl bookend edge rushers, each has just one sack through the first five games of the season. Seattle’s remade pass rush has 10 sacks. That’s 22nd in the 32-team NFL. It’s the same total the Seahawks had after five games last season. Their 15 hits on quarterbacks is 11 fewer than this time last year.
That was when they had Frank Clark and Jarran Reed on their ways to career highs in sacks. They finished with 23 1/2 between them in 2018.
Then the Seahawks traded Clark to Kansas City this spring rather than pay him the $20 million per year he wanted; they got a first- and a second-round draft choice from the Chiefs for him. This summer the NFL suspended Reed for the first six games of this season following an alleged domestic-violence incident in the defensive tackle’s Bellevue home.
“I think the pass rush is going to come alive here in the next few weeks,” coach Pete Carroll said. “I’m really excited about that.”
He said last week’s win over the Rams when Jared Goff threw 49 times was “the first time I really could see enough and feel like we’ve seen these guys out there enough to make some evaluations, to make the kind of tweaks and stuff so we can help them out.”
Back to the weather: That usually shouldn’t matter to any player in the middle of any season.
But for Clowney and the Seahawks, everything matters right now.
The defensive end and his new team are in the middle of an audition. Clowney, 26, can become a free agent following this season. He seeking to prove to the Seahawks and the league he is worthy of a megabucks contract. Seattle is assessing whether it wants to keep Clowney beyond 2019, and if so at what cost.
If Clowney likes it here, the Seahawks have the inside track to signing him past this year. Because they acquired the remainder of his contract from Houston at $8 million for this year, they are the only team that can negotiate with him between now and when free agency begins in March.
So does Clowney like it in Seattle?
“Yeah, I love it. I love it,” he said at his locker following practice Monday. “The guys, a great group of guys. Great city. It’s cool. It’s a laid-back city.”
All that’s left, then, is for Clowney to rack up the sacks that haven’t happened yet.
So far Quinton Jefferson has benefited most from Clowney’s arrival. He had a career day with two sacks playing next to Clowney in the opening win over Cincinnati. That was half his career total over three seasons since Seattle drafted him in 2016. Jefferson has been the one Seahawk consistently pressuring quarterbacks throughout the five games.
Clowney has done more than the one sack. His athletic, one-handed interception on a screen pass he tipped to himself and returned for a touchdown changed the game at Arizona last month. He forced a fumble in last week’s win over the Rams.
He says he’s still getting to know his teammates, which is particularly important for his work in the pass rush.
He says he still doesn’t fully know Jefferson’s rush moves so he can anticipate the fellow end who has played inside Clowney on passing downs most so far this season.
And he’s yet to play with Reed.
Reed left the team per terms of his suspension the day after Clowney’s trade with Houston became official. Reed is eligible to rejoin the team on Monday, following Sunday’s game at the Browns.
Clowney said the Seahawks’ pass rush will be better after Clowney gets to know Jefferson’s moves, and Reed’s upon his return next week. Clowney said he and Jefferson were sometimes rushing into the same gap last week against the Rams. Such unintended traffic makes it far easier for offensive linemen to neutralize Clowney, particularly.
Clowney sounds like his new coaches when he says the Seahawks have the right guys to have a better pass rush.
“We are headed in the right direction,” he said.
“Overall, I think we can do a lot more than we are doing, making plays up front, our tackles-for-loss game.
“But we’ve got wins. And I think it’s going to keep getting better and better.”
Carroll has mentioned a few times how he equates where Clowney and Ansah are right now in football shape and knowing their teammates is equivalent to late August, if they had participated in full offseason and all of Seattle’s training camp and preseason.
Clowney was holding out with Houston, mad at the Texans for putting a franchise tag on him to keep him from free agency or a richer, multi-year contract.
After five games is Clowney starting to look like he would have if he had a regular offseason?
“No, not yet,” Carroll said.
“I think it’s all the prep time for him in our style of what we’re asking him to do. He’s rushing the passer all the time (Houston had him dropping into pass coverage at times as a 3-4 outside linebacker). I think he would’ve just had the benefit of all of the work offseason-wise with his hands and feet and the things that we do technically.
“I think he would’ve been further along. He’s a natural athlete. This comes to him. He’s active. He’s real active. The thing I really like is he’s really active in looking like he’s going to come alive and have a big game here in the next couple.”
Ansah was coming back from shoulder injury in December then surgery that ended his time with Detroit, plus a groin injury in August conditioning for his Seahawks debut season. He missed the first two games and has played the last three.
He’s already playing more the last two games than his pace the previous three seasons for the Lions: 39 snaps in the win at Arizona, following four days later by 46 snaps in the rally past Los Angeles.
Ansah hasn’t averaged 31 or more plays per game over a full season since 2015, his Pro Bowl one with Detroit.
“Ziggy gives such great effort. Chases the football so hard. He’s going to make more plays, too,” Carroll said.
Carroll said he saw some things in the Rams game that will allow him and the coaching staff to tweak aspects of the defensive-line play to help the pass rush.
“We played the run look a lot. We didn’t put these guys in pass-rush modes a lot, and just trying to eliminate one aspect of the game,” Carroll said. “We’ll be able to help those guys more. I think this was the game I now can see some things that we can do better, and we can utilize our guys a little uniquely for their strengths.”
Still, the Seahawks did not sack Goff in his 49 drop backs. They hit him five times in the 30-29 win. Clowney and Jefferson each had two quarterback hits.
“We were so close to three or four sacks. You can just feel it’s coming alive,” Carroll said. “I think just the combination with Zig outside and what’s going on inside, I think we’re going to be able to work together better. We’ll spot them a little better.
“I think those two guys in particular (Clowney and Ansah) would be the guys that pick up. ...
“There’ll be more in the future.”