Combine Day 3: Top DEs spend day in Sam’s shadow

_VIS9502INDIANAPOLIS – A huge crowd gathered around Podium C on Saturday morning at the NFL Combine thinking Missouri defensive end Michael Sam was about to make his entrance.

Nope. Just Jadeveon Clowney.

Just Jadeveon Clowney? How things change in a year’s time.

A year ago at this time, there was talk of Clowney skipping his junior season at South Carolina in order to save himself from potential injury. That was how good he had been as a sophomore with the Gamecocks. He was a media darling after an epic hit on Michigan running back Vincent Smith during the Outback Bowl following the 2012 season.

“After ‘The Hit,’ people were talking about sitting out, all of this, all of that,” Clowney said. “A lot of people expected stuff that was impossible, like 10 sacks a game, 30 tackles-for-loss. I knew that wasn’t going to happen of course, but a lot of people expected it.”

That hit, by the way, was so notorious that Michigan offensive tackle Tayler Lewan was still answering questions about it earlier this week when he spoke at the NFL Combine (“That was not my fault,” Lewan said. “I hate saying that because I feel like I’m blaming other people … but at the same time, regardless if you’re blocked or not, that was one hell of a hit.”).

Clowney came back to Earth during a sobering 2013 season. Battling nagging injuries, facing double teams and game plans meant to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hand, his statistics plummeted. It led to questions about his motor and overall effort from many corners, including his own coach, Steve Spurrier.

“I don’t really have nothing to say about it,” Clowney said of the criticism. “I believe I did work hard. You pull out any practice tape from last year, you’ll see that. That’s what I told them. I’ll tell everybody that. I will always be working hard. No matter where I end up, I am going to work hard and give a team everything I got.”

A year ago, the thought was the No. 1 pick was Clowney’s to lose. This year, the prevailing wisdom is he might have lost it.

There is hope, though. Bob McNair, owner of the Houston Texans, the team with the top pick, is a South Carolina alumnus.

“When I heard that, I was kind of happy,” Clowney said. “Give me a chance to go to the Texans, hopefully, but I hope I get a chance to go somewhere good. I’m going to play hard and hope for the best.”

Whatever people might think of Clowney after this past season, he hopes they realize one thing – with him on the roster, the Gamecocks rose to unprecedented heights and won more games than at any point in school history.

“I just went out there and played my game,” he said. “Hard and physical football like I played my last two years there. We won, like I said, we won and got a high ranking.”


ANOTHER FALSE ALARM: Clowney’s turn at the podium wasn’t the only time the media bum-rushed the stage seeking Michael Sam. When a Combine official began an announcement with, “Missouri defensive end …” everyone perked up only to hear the end of that statement “… Kony Ealy will be at Podium C.”

So, naturally, one of the first questions Ealy fielded concerned his teammate. It has been a surreal experience for Ealy, who is considered to be the best defensive end in the draft behind Clowney and well ahead of Sam.

“I mean, it’s fine,” Ealy said. “The whole decision with Mike Sam, he’s got his own thing going, I got my own thing going. We’re focused, we’re going to come out here and compete. That’s the only thing that matters right now.”

When he wasn’t being asked about Sam, he was being asked about Clowney.

“I think he’s very athletic, he’s a freak, it’s hard to contain him,” Ealy said. “And when you do contain him, it frees up a lot of other people. I see a similar game in me as far as being able to double me and freeing up my other teammates.”

That comment finally steered the conversation back to him.

“To be honest with you – and it might sound a little cocky – I believed that I could be a first-round pick when I first got to Mizzou.”

If all goes as expected at the Combine, then Ealy’s confidence should be rewarded.

BRIDGING THE GAP: A day after Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles held court and hawked their wares, it was Teddy Bridgewater’s turn to share why he felt he should be in the mix as the first quarterback taken in May’s draft.

“The biggest thing, I think, is my accuracy,” the Louisville product said. “I was able to complete 71 percent of my passes. My third-down passing completion percentage was pretty much off the charts, my pocket presence … I’m a competitor.

“Each day I go out there and I’m eager to learn,” Bridgewater added. “I remain a student of the game and I think that, right there, just separates me.”

There is another potential advantage for Bridgewater. Former Louisville coach Charlie Strong insisted on the Cardinals running a pro-style offense, something Manziel and Bortles did not do.

“Yes,” Bridgewater said, shaking his head. “I just feel that especially … just prepared me for some of the things that an NFL quarterback has to do nowadays, with making the checks at the line of scrimmage, sliding the protection, (identifying) the Mike (linebacker), getting the offense in and out of the right plays, signaling te hot routes to the wide receivers.

“It shows how much trust that the coach had in me.”

MEANWHILE IN BALTIMORE: Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome on Saturday said he was blindsided by the Ray Rice video just as much of the country was earlier this week.

The video, first posted to, shows Rice dragging fiancée Janay Palmer out of an Atlantic City casino elevator. While Newsome says Rice remains a “big part” of the Ravens’ plans, he did admit the subsequent arrest of Rice and Palmer was “concerning.”

“It’s very concerning, but up until we get all of the facts, we’ll allow the process to run its course,” Newsom said. “I think (coach) John (Harbaugh) said it best: We will let the facts determine what the consequences will be.”

SATURDAY SUPERLATIVES: Among the offensive tackles going through drills, Lewan dazzled with the fasted 40 time of 4.87. Oklahoma’s Gabe Ikard led linemen in the 20-yard shuttle and the 3-cone drill. … Tight end Joe Don Duncan out of tiny Dixie State (St. George, Utah) virtually lapped the field in bench press repetitions, ripping off 35, seven better than second-best Jace Amaro, the prohibitive favorite to be the top tight end drafted. Tennessee State’s A.C. Leonard recorded the fastest 40 time at 4.50. Florida’s Trey Burton, who insisted the single most important hurdle for him was showing he had speed, turned in the third-best time at 4.62.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.