INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Jadeveon Clowney was measured from stem to stern on Friday.
His precise height (6-foot-51/4), weight (266 pounds), wing span (83 inches) and even hand size (10 inches) were recorded. His 40-yard dash, vertical leap and broad jump all will be logged Monday.
But what about his work ethic? How do you measure hearsay? Or, more importantly, if you thought the 2013 film looked less than full speed, how do you separate speculation from substance?
There are plenty of ways, some NFL coaches, executives and observers at the NFL Combine said this week. Others say there is only one: select him and find out.
“You are really not going to get that question answered until you get them in your own program,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said. “You haven’t been with them, you haven’t seen them, you haven’t been in practice situations, you may have watched a practice here and there, but you haven’t lived with that player every day so how do you really know?”
Rick Smith needs to know, though. There have been questions about Clowney’s work ethic since Oct. 5 when he was a late scratch from the Kentucky game due to a rib injury. Gamecocks head coach Steve Spurrier did little to stop the talk this week during an interview with NFL Network in which he called Clowney’s work ethic “OK” while praising most the other things Clowney brings to the table.
Smith is the general manager of the Houston Texans, who have the No. 1 overall selection in May’s draft, and many analysts expect Clowney to be drafted at that spot.
“You have to determine where that (work ethic issue) is coming from, if you think it’s a character flaw or you think it’s a function of the environment that he came out of,” Smith said. “Will he respond to a new environment where that is not acceptable?”
Former Indianapolis general manager and ESPN analyst Bill Polian thinks only one phone call is needed to answer the question.
“People are going to want to talk to Steve (Spurrier),” Polian said. “It’s simple as that. Make the phone call, talk to him.”
Spurrier’s candor makes him a trusted source for NFL executives, Polian said.
“Everybody has watched the film. Everybody has seen what there is to see,” Polian said. “If I were in a position to take Jadeveon Clowney, (Spurrier’s) would be the dispositive interview.”
If the Texans don’t take Clowney, he’s likely to be available at No. 3 overall for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Their general manager, David Caldwell, says just ask Clowney and see how he responds.
“Let the player tell you,” Caldwell said. “A true sign of somebody who is a real competitor is somebody who can identify his weaknesses, and I think if they can talk openly about them, that says a lot because we know there are willing to work at it.”
Gil Brandt, a longtime NFL executive who now oversees the combine, doesn’t think any questions are necessary.
“I think all you have to do is look at the tape, evaluate it and then look and see if he’s got a good work ethic or not,” Brandt said.
People who have done that have questions.
“My biggest concern is, ‘What’s his mental makeup? How important is it to him when he gets a big paycheck to become the best player in football? Or is he going to just be happy to be a millionaire,’” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. “I know what the football player is when motivated. I just want to know what kind of person I am getting.”
Tampa Bay head coach Lovie Smith hasn’t identified a work ethic problem with any members of this year’s draft class, he said, but he acknowledges it’s early in the process.
“Work ethic, that is pretty broad,” Smith said. “Most college guys don’t know how to really work as hard as they are going to. You keep in mind you are dealing with young kids that aren’t a finished product as much as anything.”
Here’s the good news for Clowney: even if NFL evaluators decide he has had a work ethic issue in the past, the league has a long track record of forgiveness for talented players.
“There are ways to make things right, no matter what we are talking about, work ethic or any number of things where people have made a mistake,” San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh said. “That’s how we all learn. That’s how we become smart, by learning from our mistakes.”