When you turn on Jadeveon Clowney's games from this season it is clear the defensive end has not changed in 2013.
When healthy, he is capable of being the nation's most dominating pass-rushing presence. After Clowney sat out last weekend's contest against Kentucky, and following coach Steve Spurrier's resulting comments, national critics have come swooping in to take a bite out of the defensive end.
A big point of contention with Clowney is that the All-American loafs and takes off snaps during the course of the game. Such instances of Clowney dialing it back appear to be very real, and there have been a handful since he stepped onto the South Carolina campus.
The two-play sequence (beginning at 2:00 mark) shows exactly what Clowney has always been as a college defensive end. He is a guy who works to get to the quarterback, but when the play is away from him he doesn't fly to the ball. That pattern isn't new this year. That's how he plays, and the sack on the play following the screen explains why coaches are alright with his playing style.
Clowney is not, nor has he ever been, a motor guy. Rather, he is an explosive ball player. Players who give maximum effort on every snap are nice, solid foundational players, but explosive, dynamic players like Clowney are difference-makers.
Last year's game against Tennessee was a testament to what many critics are now downplaying when evaluating No. 7.
Prior to this point in the game, Clowney had done nothing against the Volunteers. Antonio Richardson blocked him well, the offense ran plays to effectively neutralize the defensive end. But, the takeaway from this game is that a team can handle the All-American for 59 minutes, yet he can still come up with a huge, game-changing play.
Where Clowney is concerned, it is about the level of scrutiny that he must endure as national pundits tear him down as quickly as they anointed him a college football god. Talk of Clowney being selfish and a quitter are merely poorly veiled attempts to call him a liar and question his integrity as a competitor.
Clowney is still bringing a very real impact to the game. No, the statistics are not there, but to tie his performance to statistics is doing a disservice to defensive football and defensive linemen, in particular.
In 2011 and 2012, Clowney's impact was at a direct, more micro level. His stats were his impact—his quarterback hurries, his sacks, his tackles for loss and his highlight plays. Then, in 2013—starting out of the gate with North Carolina—football witnessed a more macro-level impact from Jadeveon Clowney.
The game has become less about identifying Clowney and sliding protection toward the defensive end, and more about locating Clowney and making sure to direct the action away from him. It's a schematic approach not unlike having a quarterback avoid throwing toward whatever side of the field a shutdown cornerback is playing.
In the run game, teams abandon Clowney's side of the field. On passing plays, offenses are making quick throws and avoiding five- and seven-step drops that give Clowney the time to get into the backfield.
Such offensive adjustments to neutralize a great defensive player are often lost on observers who focus so much on statistics. Playing defensive end is not like playing quarterback or running back, in which the box score can reveal a lot about how effective a player was.
This is especially true where Clowney is concerned. It's a reason analysts like B/R's Matt Miller do not knock Clowney in the way many pundits and casual fans have.
Clowney is for the most part the same football player that the Gamecocks have had since he arrived in 2011. He is an explosive player who shows up in a big way when he gets a chance to make plays. Teams are game-planning to stop the defensive end and not just scheming to protect against him. That has created a dip in his numbers.
As Clowney pushes to get healthy from the rib strain and a lingering bone-spur issue, and hopefully plays against Arkansas this weekend, the world should get another glimpse of what the All-American can do.
If the Razorbacks decide to run the ball to his side of the line, that is.
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