For those looking for clues to Jadeveon Clowney’s lack of production this year, look no further than what he told the New York Times on Sunday.
“My practice habits have picked up way more than they did last year,” he said. “Last year, I really didn’t practice real hard. This year, I came in with a different mind-set, like I want to be that guy, I want to have no flaws in my game.”
Though he might be trying harder this year — or so he says — it’s not resulting in more production for South Carolina’s pterodactyl-like defense end. Seven games into the season, he has 24 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. Granted, he has missed a full game due to injury and has been generally banged up, but he’s also showed a serious lack of effort at times. His comment about his practice methods last season gives us a window into his overall mind set.
In a way, the stuff going on with Clowney can be blamed almost exclusively on the ‘curse’ of his extraordinary physical ability. Because he’s such a major talent, it makes no sense to have him playing normal assignment football in the Gamecock defensive scheme. If you had a 6-foot-6, 275 pound player who could run like the wind and change direction on a dime, would you waste that ability by making him play contain on a sweep to his side so another player could make the tackle? Probably not. Because he’s so insanely talented, you’d do exactly what Gamecocks defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward does — you’d line him up all over the place and tell him to go chase the ball. The upside to that is that Clowney gets to run wild in space and this often results in spectacular plays. This style caters to his strengths. The downside is that Clowney’s football instincts have become dulled as a result. Because he freelances so much, he is often out of position and teams are finding it easy to scheme away from him. Since he’s not making as many plays, he gets frustrated and dogs it much of the time.
Clowney’s not going to be able to do that in the NFL, which is a much more serious business. While he’s a phenomenal talent, the gap between his physical ability and that of his opponents will be narrower at the next level. He’s going to have to learn to play within a defensive scheme and use his talent wisely, which will mean practicing hard and becoming a student of the game.
If he does that, there’s no reason he can’t become one of the all-time great ends.