WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. (AP) — Jadeveon Clowney made his first Pro Bowl last season but still remembers those who criticized him after his first two injury-filled seasons with the Houston Texans.
He’s intent on doing even more this season to prove them wrong.
The top overall pick in the 2014 draft thinks about many of the things that were said when he missed 15 games combined in his first two years with the Texans and those memories help motivate him.
“I keep it on my shoulder,” he said. “I know where I was a couple years ago, how people talked about me, so every day I step on the field, I just take that and put it in the back of my head and grind and work through everything I got going on that day.”
And although he was annoyed by a lot of things that were said about him then, there was one dig which weighed on him more than the others.
“Probably that I’m a bust,” he said Friday. “That one kind of gave me (motivation) like all right, let’s go to work. Let’s really, really go to work.”
And that’s exactly what he did, turning in the best season of his young career to help Houston’s defense not only stay afloat, but be the strength of the team despite losing J.J. Watt to a season-ending back surgery in September.
Clowney finished with 52 tackles, including 16 tackles for losses, six sacks and 17 quarterback hits to lead a Houston defense which allowed the fewest yards per game in the NFL last season.
His success in 2016 has provided a boost for him this season as the Texans prepare for their opener on Sept. 10 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“It’s a confidence-builder,” he said. “It really makes me work harder to try to reach another level of my game ... so this year, I’m really trying to build on last year and be a better player and help the team out more than I did the season before.”
Clowney has already turned heads in camp this season with coach Bill O’Brien noting that no one could block him early in practices when they were just wearing shells.
That’s not surprising considering this is the healthiest the 6-foot-5, 270-pound defensive end has been since before a rookie season that was all but lost because of two knee surgeries.
As impressive as his work was last season, Clowney is far from satisfied. He believes that he’s only scratched the surface of how good he can be.
“I’ve honestly got a lot more to do,” he said. “I think I’m just starting off. That was just really my rookie year to me, last year. I was just really getting rolling in this league and I think I can be even better than I was last year.”
The Texans used Clowney in a variety of different ways last season, playing him at both outside linebacker and defensive end to keep teams off-balance, and they plan to do the same this season.
“I think you have to do that,” O’Brien said. “I think everybody does that, though ... with their best players.”
It’s a plan that Clowney loves because it gives him more flexibility to make plays. And after what he and Houston’s defense were able to do last season with Watt on the sideline, Clowney can’t wait to see what the group can do with both of them healthy this season.
“Our defense as a whole, we got good guys, good coaches,” he said. “They put us in the right situations to make plays. We all like it I think. The sky’s the limit for this defense.”
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