Since I espoused the virtues of selecting Teddy Bridgewater first overall, Marcus Mariota has decided to return to Oregon, Bryce Petty is going back to Baylor, Zach Mettenberger tore his ACL, and Jim Mora hinted that Brett Hundley will be returning to school as well. Throw in Aaron Murray’s torn ACL, and a once great quarterback class has been practically halved. Bridgewater, Carr, and possibly Blake Bortles (if he declares) all remain first round quality quarterbacks, but now "fringe guys" like Tajh Boyd or A.J. McCarron could get pushed into the first round to fill the void. Will there be any bankable quarterback talent left at the top of the second round should Houston go after Jadeveon Clowney first overall? That I do not know, but I committed to crafting an argument in favor of Clowney and I’ll be damned if I don’t do just that.
Before we dive into the ins and outs of Clowney’s game, the elephant in the room needs to be addressed – effort. The "lack of willpower" in Clowney has been oft reported during the 2013 season, but very few of these reports ever clearly point out any instances of these lapses in effort. I always see "some scouts question this" or "some analysts have concerns about that", not a flat out "here’s an example of Clowney not giving a shit." Many people point to the season opener against North Carolina where Clowney appeared to be winded early and often, but they fail to mention the virus he fought all week to even get on the field severely impacting his ability to sleep (let alone function properly while playing 60 minutes against the Tarheels' up-tempo offense). Some fall back on his refusal to play against Kentucky without also qualifying that decision by mentioning the various injuries that Clowney has sustained this season. Not only has Clowney had to deal with bone spurs in the same foot he uses to burst out of his four point stance, but he has also played through damage to the cartilage in his ribs (initially reported to be bruised ribs); that has affected flexibility and likely even caused constant pain just through breathing.
The South Carolina coaching staff wanted their prized thoroughbred on the field, passive aggressively threw him under the bus in the post-game press conference when he wasn’t, and Clowney has been counting the days to leave for the NFL ever since. Sue him.
If I was a player who had to deal with constant double teams, viruses, bone spurs, and rib injuries all season only to get sold out to the media by the program which I have made literally millions of dollars for with my play, I would be pretty pissed too. Did Clowney throw a tantrum to the cameras? Has he once gotten into a bar fight, drove drunk, or sexually assaulted anyone? No, no, and no. Other than a 110 mph speeding ticket (which admittedly was a stupid mistake), he has not done one thing worth questioning his character. Jadeveon Clowney owes South Carolina nothing, yet that did not stop him from strapping on the pads and dominating Tennessee offensive tackle (and potential first rounder himself) Antonio Richardson two weeks after the Kentucky debacle.
While you type your counter arguments in the comment section citing Clowney only having five tackles and no sacks against the Vols, please consider that Clowney’s impact on the game goes far beyond statistics. Kelcy Quarles might rack up a lot of numbers in the Gamecocks' defense, but his success (and the success of the entire defense) is often made possible by Clowney putting the fear of God into every team he faces.
Take this simple trap run with a fake end around tacked on for example. Clowney is lined up at the strong side 6i technique (lined up over the inside half of the tight end). Quarles is lined up as the 2i technique inside of the left guard. Richardson is isolated on Clowney, while both guards are to engage in double teams and then advance to the second level against a soft box. The tight end is tasked with trapping the weak side defensive end. For good measure, a fake end around is built in to freeze the linebackers from coming down hill.
Clowney takes a violent first step outside (circled red), and Richardson responds in kind with his first step, intending to drive Clowney outside and away from the play.
Richardson overzealously lunges at Clowney, whose unbelievable quickness allows him to counter inside with a beautiful swim move.
Richardson (circled blue), is left staring at the ground, not knowing what the hell just happened. The right guard is beginning to pass off the defensive tackle and advance to the second level, while the left guard, now seeing Clowney about to put himself back in Sports Center’s Top 10 for another couple months, pulls off his assignment to keep number seven from murdering his team mate.
The running back is just barely able to avoid Clowney as the guard pushes him behind the play. However, as a result of the guard not advancing forward, a South Carolina linebacker is left completely unblocked to meet the runner in the hole.
The back is tackled for two yards on a play that should have gone for a lot more. This is a perfect example of Clowney blowing up an offense without ever touching the ball carrier. His very presence makes life easier for everyone around him. Without Clowney’s ability to not only beat his (very talented) blocker instantly, but scare the guard enough to make him abandon his assignment, this play does not get stopped for two yards. This, my friends, is impact.
By being the player that he is, Clowney draws consistent double teams at the point of attack, which allows other play makers like Kelcy Quarles to affect the game. Take this zone stretch in the first quarter as an example. The left guard and left tackle are supposed to double Clowney while the tight end seals out the inside linebacker. Quarles is left one on one with the center on the back side while the right guard and right tackle work in tandem to double the back side three technique and seal out the other inside linebacker. The weak side defensive end is left unblocked.
Quarles being left with a single blocker (blue circle) allows him to immediately dispatch the center with a sudden swim move and change the impact the play.
Clowney is still doubled (red circle) while Quarles’s penetration (blue circle) forces the back to change trajectory.
Here’s where this just gets stupid. Clowney gets his inside arm into Richardson’s chest and begins to shed the block. Using the old "one arm is longer than two" principle of football, Clowney is able to use his length to keep Richardson at bay while he tracks the ball carrier, who is now fleeing from Quarles.
Clowney disengages and bursts into the RB to take him down for a loss.
1 - Double teamed? Check.
2 - Other linemen given opportunity to beat single blocking? Check.
3 - Beats the double team anyway and forces a loss on the play? Check.
When Clowney is given an inch, he can take a mile. Tennessee foolishly left him one on one with a tight end on the back side of a run play, and Clowney made them pay for it. If it weren’t for an unfortunate face mask penalty, this would have been a huge play. This is why he is constantly double teamed.
The main criticism of Clowney, as stated before, is his motor and "willpower to go hard on every snap". It’s easy to watch a nine minute cut up from draft breakdown and make some sort of baseless judgement on Clowney’s motor, but when watching the actual, full, uncut game, a different conclusion can and should be reached. I was able to identify some of these plays that would normally be cited as "evidence" of Clowney’s apathy, and none of them scream "bad work ethic".
Here is where I first noticed Clowney slowing down. After beating Richardson off the edge, he overshoots the quarterback, does not stop to change direction, and continues jogging around the play while a pass is completed for a first down. I initially marked this down as a poor effort. Please note that this drive also comes after a turnover and several short, ineffective drives from the Gamecock offense. Tennessee was on the field a lot in the first half, and their up tempo offense was taking a toll on the South Carolina defense.
The very next play, Clowney can be seen with his hands on his hips before the snap. He stands up from his four point stance and "drops" into coverage. He looks exhausted and sluggish, though he still tries to fling himself at the ball carrier.
The next play, clowney "drops" again, and he is still visibly gassed. He chases down the running back from behind with what little juice he has left in the tank.
Again, next play. Clowney swims outside, gets picked up by the tight end, and cannot find the strength to pursue from the back side. The Vols would score on the very next play, again running away from Clowney. This is not a man that does not care. This is a man that is utterly devoid of energy after a grueling first half. Subs were limited by the up tempo Tennessee attack, the offense gave him no time to rest, rib cartilage damage made every breath a chore, bone spurs gnawed at the muscles and nerves in his foot. Clowney is not showing a bad motor, he is just freakin’ tired, and with good reason.
Clowney’s first action after nearly 15 minutes of real time rest (note, that period of rest is not conveyed in ten minute cut ups, but it is in full game tapes), he does something like this. It is amazing what happens when an explosive player is allowed time to collect himself. The Vols would run a quick dive to end the half after this play was blown up.
In the second half, on Clowney’s second snap after another South Carolina turnover, he lines up inside of Richardson. Off the snap he immediately swims outside, beats Richardson like a drum, and flattens down the back of the line to put himself in position to tackle the back for a loss. The outside linebacker blows by the tight end just as quickly and beats Clowney to the punch, but his explosiveness after being granted time to rest is evident. Give him an inch, and you can be darn sure that he'll take that mile.
Second play on the next drive, after twenty more minutes of rest during a long South Carolina touchdown drive, Clowney shoots the gap with incredible quickness and burst. He trips on his way through the gap, but tries scrambling on all fours after the running back anyway. That is effort. That is the athletic ability that cannot be rivaled.
Just for good measure, take a look at this beautiful stack and jerk on Richardson in run support. Clowney tosses him aside like a rag doll and spills the runner towards the outside, where a cornerback is waiting. Clowney pursues down the line of scrimmage, his long strides effortlessly tracking down the ball carrier. Though he overshoots the tackle, the back is still held up long enough for the pursuit to bring him down with no damage done.
As someone who gets to watch J.J. Watt prove how unblockable he is week in and week out, this soon to be ex-Gamecock is one of the few human beings on this planet who can replicate that complete and utter dominance. Rick Smith is already importing players from the Carolinas by the truck load, so he might as well add one more. Hell, putting two men who can’t be blocked on the same line would be great if just for the reactions from fans of every other AFC team. Clowney and Watt…Watt and Clowney…no matter which way you say it, it still sounds insanely unfair.
Houston could use a little "unfair" right now.