Consistent effort level is coaches' main concern with Clowney

jkendall@thestate.comAugust 13, 2013 

South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (7)

JEFF BLAKE — jblake@thestate.com

There comes a time in every NFL prospect’s life when, no matter how gifted he is, the process of evaluation moves from listing his qualities to finding his faults.

Like most everything else in Jadeveon Clowney’s life, that process has been accelerated. Clowney, South Carolina’s junior All-America defensive end, essentially has been an NFL prospect since the end of the 2012 season, when he confirmed this would be his last season as a Gamecock. As the presumptive No. 1 pick in April’s NFL Draft, Clowney’s list of gifts is long and well-chronicled.

Where’s the wart? Consistency, say some.

That’s a fair critique, South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said.

“JD doesn’t play hard all the time, and he knows that. I tell him all the time,” Ward said. “He plays hard when he needs to. The great thing about him is when he has to make a play, he will make it. But I want him to make those plays all the time. When you are in great shape, you will do that.”

Clowney played with the proper energy on 80 percent of his snaps in 2012, Ward estimated. That was good enough for 23.5 tackles for loss and a South Carolina single-season record 13 sacks. Ward has targeted 90 percent for this season.

“If he plays hard nine out of 10 snaps, I am going to be proud of him,” said Ward, adding 100 percent “is totally unrealistic” for any player.

Clowney’s effort was one of the first topics new defensive line coach Deke Adams addressed when he took the job in January.

“That was one of the knocks on him before, that he didn’t play hard all the time,” Adams said. “We talked a lot about doing that on a consistent basis. I pushed the whole group to do that. It’s not something we are just focusing with (just) him.”

Clowney does not dodge the charge.

“I used to get tired last year during games a lot,” Clowney said. “Now I just got myself really in shape. That’s all it was. I am not worried about my game, because my game was all right last year. I was just out of shape last year, but I am in shape (now).”

Ward told Clowney before South Carolina’s summer conditioning drills began that he expected him to be in the best shape of his life this season.

“I don’t think he pushed himself enough during the season or off-field, whatever he did (off the field). He did not get enough rest,” Ward said. “I think you will see a different guy as far as effort every down this season.”

Clowney missed Monday’s practice with a bruised shoulder and had missed an earlier practice with a slight knee injury.

But on Tuesday, all was well and Clowney returned to practice.

SAVING THE BEST FOR LAST

Many of Jadeveon Clowney’s biggest plays have come in the fourth quarter:

1. THE HIT

With about eight minutes remaining, Clowney’s hit causes a fumble by Michigan’s Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl. Clowney recovers the ball, and USC scores on the next play.

2. SACKING CLEMSON

Two of Clowney’s 4.5 sacks against Clemson this past season came on the Tigers’ final two drives, helping the Gamecocks hold on to a 27-17 victory.

3. BULLDOGS STOPPED

In 2011, Clowney sacks Georgia QB Aaron Murray and causes a fumble. Melvin Ingram returns it 5 yards for a TD to put USC up 45-25 with 3:12 remaining.

4. VOLS SURRENDER

With less than two minutes remaining, Clowney sacks Tennessee QB Tyler Bray and forces a fumble that stops a Vols threat inside the USC 20 yard line this past season.

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