By Rich Myhre Herald Writer
SEATTLE — Seattle Seahawks defensive end Chris Clemons had to miss the final playoff game of last season and the first two games of this season, and in between he had to endure eight difficult months of continuous, rigorous and sometimes painful rehabilitation.
Such is the nature of knee injuries in the National Football League.
On a day of many heroes for the Seattle Seahawks, Clemons’ contributions were minimal by comparison on Sunday afternoon. But they were no less meaningful to Clemons personally and to his team going forward in the 2013 season.
“It was great to have Clem back out there,” said cornerback Richard Sherman following Seattle’s 45-17 victory over Jacksonville at CenturyLink Field. “He’s a big part of our defense. He was a big part last year, and it’s good to see him out there getting his legs back under him and getting some reps, because we’ll need him throughout the season.”
Clemons was injured in the fourth quarter of a Jan. 6 playoff game at Washington, which the Seahawks won 24-14. He suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, which required surgery and forced him to rehabilitate through the offseason, training camp, preseason and the first two weeks of the regular season.
“Today was really the first live action I’ve had since I left the Redskins game,” Clemons said. “I was just trying to get back out there.”
Asked if he felt at all rusty against the Jaguars, Clemons shook his head. “Not at all,” he said. “I’ve been getting some good work (at practice) for the last two weeks, so it was just a (matter of) trying to get into the groove.”
The goal against Jacksonville was to get Clemons about 15 plays, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said, “and he was somewhere in there. … He felt good, he felt a little rusty, but he was really excited that he got through the game and he’s ready to go now.”
Having a healthy Clemons will be a nice boost for a Seattle defense that is already one of the NFL’s best. The Seahawks lead the league in per-game points allowed (9.0), yards allowed (241.7) and passing yards allowed (146.7).
Those numbers could well improve with a healthy Clemons back in the mix. The 10-year NFL veteran and fourth-year Seahawk was Seattle’s top pass rusher over the last three seasons with 33.5 sacks, including a team-best 11.5 in 2012.
While every NFL player trains in the offseason, a player in rehabilitation has a completely different regimen. And as Clemons explained, “every day was different. You wake up some days feeling great. And some days you wake up and you’re like, ‘I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to (play) again.’
“The biggest thing is just trusting in what they had me doing as far as rehab and stuff in the weight room, and just beginning to believe exactly what I can do. … My family was around me a lot during those times, and being able to be around them and then getting back here and being around the guys during rehab, it made it a lot easier than it would have had I been by myself.”
Clemons finished Sunday’s game with no sacks, no tackles for loss and, in fact, no tackles of any kind. He did record one hit on Jacksonville quarterback Chad Henne.
But none of that mattered much to Clemons or to any of his teammates and coaches.
“It helps a lot (having him back),” said linebacker Bobby Wagner. “He’s one of the leaders of our defense. And after seeing all the rehab he had to go through, it’s great to have him back.”