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Is Clowney the anti-Manziel?

Jadeveon Clowney explains what he wants to accomplish this season.
Jadeveon Clowney explains what he wants to accomplish this season.
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Greg Couch

Greg Couch has been a national columnist at AOL Fanhouse and The Sporting News and an award-winning columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. He was featured twice in "Best American Sports Writing" and was recognized by the US Tennis Writers Association for best column writing and match coverage. He covers tennis on his personal blog. Follow him on Twitter.

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HOOVER, Ala.

Johnny Manziel thinks he’s living in his moment. Jadeveon Clowney thinks he’s living for his. The two best players in college football are being honest about what they think of themselves, who they are, where they are.

When they are.

Their actions are opposites, and are saying so much. And no one is saying this, but here’s the truth: If Manziel truly believed in himself and his future, then he would be acting the way Clowney is.

One guy is behaving for the future he expects to have. One is acting as if he’s not sure he’s anything more than a gimmick with a ticking clock.

Can you tell which one is which?

“That’s a grown man,’’ Clowney said about Manziel on Tuesday at the SEC Media Days. “He makes his own decisions. I make my own decisions. I stay off the Internet. I know better. That’s up to him.’’

We’ve spent the whole offseason hearing about Johnny Football’s Excellent Heisman Adventure. We know who he has met, where he has been, what he has tweeted, then deleted, what he has had to drink, where he has thrown out the opening pitch, what bar he has been at and most recently, which Camp (Manning Passing Academy) he was sent home from.

And Clowney? We haven’t heard a peep. Have you noticed? So I asked him what he’s been doing with himself.

“Really, hang out,’’ he said. “I did a lot of hanging out this summer. Taking trips with my friends. But when it’s time to work, it’s time to work.

“I am back and started working out. That’s all I’ve been doing, really, since I got back.’’

What about social media? It’s your conduit to your fans, to the world.

“I don’t post pictures. I don’t tweet. I just stay off the Internet.’’

This is about living in your moment, understanding when that moment is, and knowing how to get to it. To be clear: I’m not saying that Manziel is a gimmick, but only that he acts as if he thinks he is. It’s not that he won’t make it in the NFL, but only that he seems to be making sure he gets as much fun out of this ride while he still can.

On Wednesday, Manziel is scheduled to talk to the media. He’s expected to lay out exactly what happened at the Manning camp, from which he was sent home early for, officially, dehydration, which didn’t seem to stop his life as a party animal.

Clowney talked Tuesday. And while he laughed about how his approach to social media differs from Manziel’s, the more telling thing was how he kept getting back to how much he is learning as a defensive end each year at South Carolina.

“In high school, it was all about running through guys and around them,’’ Clowney said. “I learned so much about the game in college. Every year I learn something new.

“Getting better every year. Using my hands more. Get off the ball ... I know I’m going to get double-teamed. That’s one thing I’ve been working on, taking on two on one block, getting my hands in the right position.’’

He instinctively moved his hands up as he said that. And he talked openly about the goal of getting to the NFL.

I figure Manziel will offer a public apology Wednesday, and everyone will forgive him. He doesn’t actually owe us an apology, by the way.

All along I’ve thought he was being judged unfairly. He was just doing what any college kid with sudden fame would do. But when it was time for work, as Clowney put it, Manziel couldn’t even show up on time at the Manning camp.

Immaturity? Manziel is exactly 70 days older than Clowney. I understand that Manziel has become a national phenomenon and Clowney has not, so Manziel has had more spotlight to deal with.

It’s also entirely new to him. Ever since Clowney was a kid, he was always headed for the NFL. He was highly recruited out of high school. Manziel was a nobody. A few weeks before last season, Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin hadn’t even decided yet to start him.

You can never fully erase what the past has meant to your self-belief. We don’t know for sure how much of Manziel is real. We don’t know how much is him and how much is Sumlin’s genius and system, which has produced before. Peter King has reported that NFL teams are turned off by Manziel’s behavior.

Deep down, it seems that Manziel wonders.

Clowney will surely slip up along the way, as he’s also just a 20-year-old college kid, but his direction is forward, to the future. To the NFL to be the next — who? — Bruce Smith?

For now, Manziel is known for a circus and Clowney for one amazing, crushing play.

It’s telling.

Tagged: South Carolina, Texas A&M, Johnny Manziel, Jadeveon Clowney

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