Ex-Northwestern star Johnathan Joseph wants Clowney in Houston

bmccormick@heraldonline.comApril 3, 2014 

Johnathan Joseph didn’t see Jadeveon Clowney’s pro day in person on Wednesday, but like many from Rock Hill he really didn’t need to.

“I kind of thought about going down there to watch it in person,” said Joseph, “but it wouldn’t affect my idea or impression of the guy at all. He’s a once in a generation prospect.”

Joseph wanted to get down to Columbia, but wasn’t able to find a flight in time; he was in Rock Hill, on Thursday for Northwestern’s football state championship ring ceremony. But the former Trojans and Gamecocks standout, and current Houston Texans cornerback, did see highlights of Clowney’s workout on ESPN and the NFL Network.

Like many of the 120 media members and an army of NFL personnel in attendance at Williams-Brice Stadium, Joseph was impressed with what he saw on the screen. Clowney had a three-week window between the NFL Draft Combine and his pro day. He obviously didn’t sit around during those 21-odd days.

“It says a lot about the guy’s work ethic, that alone,” Joseph said. “A lot of guys, in that down-time would go out and travel, party, do the things that young kids tend to do when they come into a lot of money. It showed his dedication that he put in work when he had a late pro day.”

Joseph said he told Clowney that the best thing possible would be to arrive at the pro day in tip-top shape, and the big man, who had been training at Velocity Sports Performance in south Charlotte, looked like he took that advice to heart. Even in suddenly warm 80-plus temperatures, Clowney showed the cat-like ability to move in different directions suddenly, bounding over seven blocking pads laid out on the ground, then snatching up tennis balls that were placed in various formations before him.

Clowney said he wanted to “show how quick I can get out, turn my hips. Show them that I can drop in coverage.” He did that when he went through linebacker drills that probably confirmed he could play in the NFL as an edge rusher, an en vogue position with many teams operating 3-4 defensive alignments.

Texans general manager Rick Smith told reporters after Clowney’s workout that the Rock Hill native “certainly has the athleticism to do what would be asked of him. I’m satisfied about what I know about his work ethic. We hadn’t seen a lot of movement in space. That was probably the biggest thing.”

Teddy Bruschi, one of the numerous television personalities and former NFL players in attendance, is convinced Clowney could play from a standing start.

“We asked him if he prepared for those linebacker drills, and he said, ‘Eh, not really.’ And then to go out there and make those drops. What more do you want? He can play outside linebacker.”

Houston would upgrade at either defensive end or edge rusher/outside linebacker with the 21-year-old Clowney.

In a division with Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts, a mobile Jake Locker of the Tennessee Titans, and the high possibility of the Jacksonville Jaguars using their early draft pick on a talented rookie quarterback, Clowney’s speed and pursuit instincts would be very welcome.

Houston was 29th in the NFL last season in sacks, with 32, and 10.5 of those came from Pro Bowl defensive end J.J. Watt alone. The Texans were worst in the league in interceptions, with just seven. Joseph made three of those picks.

“Of course it would make my life easier, pairing (Clowney) with J.J. Watt,” he said, “so I’m definitely on board for it.”

Befitting of a team with the No. 1 pick, Houston has plenty of holes to fill. The Texans traded starting quarterback Matt Schaub to Oakland, and also need a right tackle. But the Texans have 11 draft picks to utilize and also know that the NFL standings are annually thrown on their head.

A guy who Joseph calls “The Big Ticket,” borrowing the nickname bestowed upon a young Kevin Garnett, could be the impetus for a turnaround in Houston. For Clowney, the wait is almost over, and it probably can’t come soon enough. Every aspect of his game, perceived or actual, has been dissected and judged. Joseph was happy that Clowney’s pro day performance seems to have quieted even a few more skeptics.

“For some reason it’s always that way,” said Joseph. “You always have doubters and naysayers. You can do everything right and they’ll wait until you do one thing wrong and that will become a way for people to take shots at you. But at the end of the day, there’s nothing you can do about the outside world, you can only handle yourself.”

Only a few opinions matter now – the teams picking one through five, or six, in next month’s draft. Texans brass, including Smith, chief operating officer Cal McNair and coach Bill O’Brien, ate dinner with Clowney on Tuesday evening, according to a report from the Houston Texans’ web site. They’ll get together again later this month in Houston when Clowney pays a visit. The football work appears to be done, for now.

“I think he’s done everything everyone’s asked him to do,” said Joseph. “Hopefully, we take him No. 1. It’s a hard decision, but he’s a clear-cut No. 1 prospect.”

Bret McCormick •  803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T

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