South Carolina All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney’s appearance Tuesday at Southeastern Conference media days was highlighted by some of his candid remarks, during which he showed the outgoing personality that teammates have known since he arrived in Columbia in 2011.
One thing that caught everyone’s attention was Clowney saying he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds Monday at USC’s summer testing. That’s a pretty crazy number, even if the time was taken on a hand-held stopwatch and not with an official electronic system.
“I felt good about myself,” Clowney said of the 4.46.
But here’s the thing: This is not drastically faster than Clowney has run before. In March, he said he ran the 40 in 4.54 during offseason testing. These are both insane numbers for a guy who weighs between 265 and 270 pounds, depending on the day.
“I ran a 4.43 my senior year (of high school),” Clowney said. “But I was 250 (pounds) then. I’m like 270 now. I don’t know if I’m going to touch that 4.43.”
For someone Clowney’s size to run 4.46 or 4.54 or anywhere in between, or even 4.60 – it’s all darn impressive. How important, then, is it that we parse the numbers to the point that Clowney has now run 0.08 of a second faster than he ran in the winter, on a hand-held stop watch – an inexact measurement? Do we really need this to tell us he is a magnificent football player? Have we not seen that during, you know, actual football games?
It’s a strange thing, our desire these days to quantify every single aspect of success. If Clowney had run a 4.7 or 4.8, would his 13 sacks and 23½ tackles for loss last season be any less impressive? Absolutely not. We can see with our own eyeballs that Clowney is fast, particularly in the short bursts he most often needs to make from his position. He rarely has to run 40 yards during a game. We can see how fast he covers the 10 or 15 or 20 that he needs to cover, while chasing down quarterbacks. We don’t need a 40 time to tell us this man is quick on his feet.
Sure, Clowney being hand-timed at 4.46 only adds to his fearsome reputation. But it would seem, at this point, he has done enough on the field that even if he suffered a season-ending injury before the year even started, he would still be the No. 1 pick in next spring’s NFL draft. We don’t need a 40 time that was 0.08 of a second faster than what Clowney had already run recently to tell us he’ll go No. 1.
And we especially don’t need to breathlessly obsess over said 40 times, as if we just discovered that Clowney can play the game of football very, very well – something he is acutely aware of.
“I came in as a freshman and I told myself I was going to do three years, and that’s what I’m going to do – three years and out,” he said, as he considered his future, fast approaching now.
But Clowney was rightfully proud of his accomplishment in the 40, as he should be. It certainly will not define his season. How he handles double teams – something he said he needs to keep working on – will determine how much of an impact he has in 2013. Yet the 40 time is a testament to his hard work to improve on his already prodigious natural physical abilities. He said his teammates “went crazy” when they saw the time.
“They were like, ‘Man, I just don’t believe this. Let me see that time again.’ They kept asking coach, ‘You sure he ran that?’ I asked him, ‘You sure?’ I told my roommate, Chaz Sutton, the night before, I was like, ‘Chaz, you know what, I’m running a 4.4 in the morning, man.’ He was like, ‘You’re lying, man. You ain’t going to do that.’ I was like, ‘Watch me.’ So I went out there early and started stretching really good.”
Clowney liked this anecdote about predicting his 40 time to Sutton, and he offered it up in a couple different interview rooms Tuesday. Clowney said USC coach Steve Spurrier, who is used to media and fan attention, told him “just have fun with it.” It was clear Clowney heeded that advice Tuesday. He was blunt and didn’t really zone out during questions or mail in his answers, which would have been easy for anyone to do – especially a 20-year-old kid – considering how many questions, including the same ones over and over, that Clowney received Tuesday.
He was asked for the umpteenth time about hitting Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl and knocking his helmet off.
“I’ve never talked to the guy before,” Clowney said of Smith. “I don’t know if he’d want to talk to me. When I was in high school, I hit this guy from Lancaster one day on a punt block. I almost killed him. I hurt myself, too, though. I knocked him out. He didn’t get up, but I walked to the sideline and was like blacked out myself.”
The Smith hit was an eyebrow-raising play, and an important one for USC. But it wasn’t Clowney’s most impressive play of the year. A better one was his game-clinching strip sack of Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray, on which Clowney beat offensive tackle Antonio Richardson, who he might just face down the road in the NFL. On the Smith hit, Clowney wasn’t blocked. He was not blocked, period. On the Bray strip sack, he beat an elite player. No comparison there.
“Both of them were really big plays to me, and put us in position to win the game,” Clowney said, when asked to compare the two. “Tennessee, that was a tight game. After what happened with Marcus (Lattimore, who suffered a season-ending knee injury), the team wasn’t really into the game no more. We just kept talking about, ‘Man, we hope he’s all right.’ We lost focus of the game, really. The score snuck up on us. I was like, ‘Man, y’all see the score? We’re about to lose this game (USC was up 38-35 at the time of the strip sack and won by that score).’ They were like, ‘You need to do something about that.’ I said, ‘I got you.’”
The Clowney-Richardson rematch is Oct. 19 in Knoxville.
“I was a little banged up from my foot injury (during last year’s game against the Volunteers),” Clowney said. “I kept coming in and out of the game because my foot was messed up. I’m looking forward to it (the Oct. 19 rematch).”
Clowney was also candid about his Heisman Trophy thoughts.
“That’s not a really big deal to me,” he said. “A big deal to me is winning the SEC championship this year and get drafted high. That’s a big deal. If I get to be a finalist, that’ll be a great honor for me, but I’m not really too big on it.”
If he becomes the first exclusively defensive player to ever win the award – and it would take some major numbers from him this season, while playing against double teams – that would significantly boost his marketability at the next level. But he should be fine in that department, regardless of the Heisman outcome.
Before heading to USC’s plane Tuesday evening, Clowney offered one more line for the masses who had gathered around him in Hoover. He was talking about the running back position and said, “That’s what you’re there for, is to get hit.”
Clowney’s hitting begins again Aug. 29, in USC’s Thursday night opener against North Carolina.