South Carolina opened spring practice Tuesday afternoon with star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney alongside his teammates as expected.
Clowney’s status has been talked about for several weeks after a Charlotte Observer columnist suggested the junior defensive end might be better served sitting out the 2013 season and then entering the NFL draft. ESPN took the topic national after the column and sent a reporter to Columbia on Tuesday to chronicle Clowney’s spring debut.
“I think he’s handled all that pretty well and, hopefully, that’ll die out pretty soon,” coach Steve Spurrier said after practice. “I know it’s something people like to talk about. There are a lot of talk shows that have to have something to talk about. That puts South Carolina out there, helps us a little bit, I guess.”
Clowney spoke to ESPN before Tuesday’s practice but did not speak to local media members after the workout.
“He understands there are a lot of people who are going to want to get close to him,” defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said. “We are just going to try to keep it as close to normal as possible. He’s done well the last two or three weeks with handling the situation, and we hope he continues going the way he’s going.”
The Gamecocks will hold 14 more spring practices, culminating with the April 13 spring game at 1 p.m. in Williams-Brice Stadium.
Clowney arrived Tuesday with his typical long dreadlocks flowing above a bulkier physique. After playing at 256 pounds last season, Clowney is listed at 272 pounds after the team’s winter workouts, and he ran a 4.5-second, 40-yard dash at that size this winter, according to ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi, who interviewed Clowney on Tuesday.
Clowney will not participate in the team’s scrimmages this spring but will get plenty of practice work, Ward said.
“If I could get him to play 100 percent every time, he might be unstoppable,” Ward said. “If he wants to be the No. 1 player taken in the (2014 NFL) draft, he has to play harder. If he wants to make a play, he has shown that he can do that. I want him to make a play every time. I want him to play that way every time.”
Clowney was a consensus All-American in 2012 after posting a school-record 13 sacks. He is expected to enter 2013 as a leading Heisman Trophy candidate, and the Gamecocks are trying to help him manage his increasing fame, Ward said.
“We’ve talked to him a little bit. He’s an exuberant type young man, and I think he’s handled it pretty well,” Spurrier said. “We’ll work with him. He knows what he’s got to do. He’s got to be a good teammate and do what everybody else does. I think he’s trying pretty hard to do that.”
Spurrier post-practice comments
Tuesday practice sights, sounds