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July 12, 2011
Jadeveon Clowney is a beast.
But that characterization doesn't mean the nation's No. 1 prospect is going to come in and set the Southeastern Conference on fire from day one. In fact, I would be stunned if he does.
Frankly, anybody expecting Clowney to step right in, become an established starter for the Gamecocks and dominate SEC offensive linemen from the word go are being unrealistic.
Just as worse, they're being unfair to Clowney himself.
Case in point: College football expert Phil Steele put Clowney on his preseason All-SEC third-team.
That's ridiculous. No true freshman should ever be put on any list - good or bad - that begins with the word "All."
As USC defensive line coach Brad Lawing explained when I spoke with him recently, Clowney, though extraordinarily talented, still has plenty of things to work on before he makes his Gamecock debut on Sept. 3.
He still has to get stronger - physically and mentally - and work on his moves to get past SEC offensive linemen.
My expectations for Clowney? Work hard, go to class, listen to the coaches, learn the complex defensive scheme (this isn't Football 101), practice and play with 100 percent effort every day and contribute to the USC defense within the scheme he's taught.
If he does all those things, I will consider his freshman season a success.
From a physical skills standpoint, some of the pieces are already in place. Clowney is a phenomenal athlete, huge physical presence, has a lightning-quick first step and is able to change direction in a millisecond. He also possesses a competitive fire and strong work ethic some freshmen take time to acquire.
In short, some of the ingredients are in the bowl for Clowney to become the expected superstar many analysts thought he would be.
But these words from Lawing speak volumes: "I need to impress on him that talent just isn't enough and he has to be fundamentally sound and he has to play within the scheme of our defense."
In my opinion, USC is taking the right approach with Clowney. They will require him to earn his way rather than simply handing him a starting job from the opening day of preseason camp.
Don't forget Clowney must battle a fifth-year senior for the starting job at defensive end. Melvin Ingram has been around for a while, he knows the defense inside and out, and he was very productive in 2010 with a team-high nine sacks.
Typically, predicting a winner from a position battle between a fifth-year senior and true freshman would be a no-brainer. But Clowney, as we know, is no ordinary freshman, so I can't say he has no chance to prevail.
But it is 50-50? No. The odds still favor Ingram. Yes, experience counts for something. At least until Clowney proves himself in a game. Until that point is reached, Lawing will probably go with Ingram and work Clowney into the rotation.
A three-man defensive end rotation consisting of Clowney, Ingram and Devin Taylor has the potential to become one of the best in the SEC.
My biggest fear? The negative reactions from hyperactive recruiting analysts if Clowney doesn't clearly beat out Ingram for the starting job. Make no mistake, some people out there actually believe Clowney will become All-World immediately.
If he's not, these same people will mistakenly label Clowney as a 'disappointment' even though nothing could be further from the truth.
Unfortunately, some people are unable to distinguish between hype and reality. No question Clowney was arguably the most celebrated prospect nationally in the last decade. But that doesn't automatically translate into performance on the field, especially in the SEC.
One of the biggest adjustments Clowney will have to make is dealing with SEC offensive tackles that are just as tall as he is, weigh about 50 pounds more and are a whole lot more talented than any OT he faced in four years at South Pointe High School.
Even the East Carolina offensive tackles Clowney will knock helmets with on Sept. 3 will be the best he's ever faced.
Will Clowney eventually reach his potential? With Lawing and his future USC teammates showing the way, the answer is yes. Yet it will not happen overnight.
Few freshman defensive players in the SEC come in and dominate right away, especially ones who put their hands on the ground.
But once Clowney fits all the pieces to the puzzle together, watch out.
- Defensive line coach Brad Lawing spoke extensively about Clowney in a feature published on Monday. To read it, click here.
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