Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien was asked about former South Carolina football star Jadeveon Clowney’s play this week, and for the first time in years the coach raved about the top overall pick in the 2014 draft.
“He’s playing well. He played really well (Sunday),” O’Brien said. “He was one of our best players on our whole team.”
Clowney has shaken off two years of injuries to become one of Houston’s most consistent players this season, and his transition to defensive end has helped the Texans absorb the loss of star J.J. Watt to injury.
Clowney had a career-high four tackles for losses on Sunday to give him eight for the season, which ties his career-best and leads the NFL. While he’s now listed as a defensive end, the Texans line him up in various spots on the line as well as at linebacker to keep blockers off-balance.
It’s been a difficult change for Clowney because playing end in a 4-3 scheme in college is vastly different than playing on the line in the NFL in Romeo Crennel’s 3-4 defense. At South Carolina, the 6-foot-5, 263-pound Clowney was bigger than almost anyone he had to block. But he’s a bit undersized to play defensive end in the NFL, and when he lines up at tackle he faces offensive lineman that routinely weigh 60-70 pounds more than he does. This week he could have to block Colts right guard Denzelle Good, who at 355 pounds outweighs him by almost 100 pounds.
But O’Brien said Clowney makes up for his lack of weight in other ways.
“You can define size in a lot of different ways. Does he play big? He plays with a lot of explosiveness,” O’Brien said. “He’s a very tough player. He plays with good leverage a lot of the time in certain situations. So look, does he weigh as much as some of the guys that he goes against in there? No. That could be said for a lot of different guys (but) I think he’s playing at a high level.”
He has started every game this season, easily his longest streak in his NFL career. He didn’t play more than four consecutive games in his first two seasons.
“It’s a great feeling to be healthy and feeling good,” Clowney said. “Just getting better and better each week and hope I can sustain it for 16 games and keep going forward and keep getting better.”
Though he’s piling up tackles for losses, sacks have evaded Clowney and he has just two this season. He’s hoping to add to that total this week when he faces an Indianapolis line that has allowed Andrew Luck to be sacked an NFL-high 20 times this season.
“You want to get in there and make plays on him and get to him,” he said. “We have to come with a good game plan this week, go out there and rush and try to get to him.”
Some had wondered if Clowney was ever going to make the kind of impact he did during a three-year career at South Carolina where he had he had 130 tackles, 24 sacks, 47 tackles for losses and 20 quarterback pressures after his first two years in the NFL. So far this season he’s proven that he’s capable of being a disruptive force when he’s healthy, and people around the league are noticing.
“He’s a different guy,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “The guy is playing as good as anybody in the league right now up front. He’s playing with a ton of confidence, a ton of physicality. We know the athleticism. We know the God-given dominant traits that he has as a football player, but his motor is running and it’s running hot. It never stops.”
Though he didn’t like to talk about it, fighting through the injuries and hearing all the negativity weighed on Clowney. He is much happier now. In his first two years he was almost never in the locker room when reporters were present. Now he spends much of each availability sitting at his locker chatting with people and joking with players and reporters.
He beamed when told about the compliments his coach gave him this week.
“It’s special, it’s good,” he said. “My teammates noticed. He noticed. I just have to keep playing well. They come out and say: ‘We need you this week’ every week. I have to keep playing for my teammates and keep trying to make plays for the team.”