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Clowney's season mystifying to watch

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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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We never know how we’d react to a winning lottery ticket. I was in a pizza joint in Chicago Wednesday, and the guys behind the counter were talking about it. One joked that he’d buy a Ferrari and keep delivering pizzas in it for a week before disappearing. The other guy said he’d buy a business.

Johnny Manziel partied. Jadeveon Clowney has decided to lie down for a while.

That’s my theory, anyway. It has become sport to play psychologist with Clowney, who returned to South Carolina’s practice Wednesday. What is wrong with him?

I talked with longtime Dallas Cowboys player personnel chief Gil Brandt Wednesday. Brandt, who modernized the scouting business, theorized that Clowney is getting bad advice, possibly from an agent. Brandt feels that Clowney is hurting, and that someone has convinced him it would be better not to play than to show NFL scouts what 75 percent of him looks like.

“Let me just say it this way,’’ Brandt said. “Over the years, incidents have been brought to my attention by players who said they were advised by agents that if they’re not 100 percent healthy, don’t play.

“There are some wannabe inexperienced people that are not capable of giving advice, but want to be thought of as people that know a lot.’’

Hello Jay Z?

That’s a good theory. Most people think Clowney is trying to save himself for next year, not risk injury and cost himself money.

To me, it’s the lottery ticket he won in January. His ticket?

The Hit in the Outback Bowl against Michigan. That knocked the incentive right out of Clowney.

I thought The Hit would spur him on to get his 20 sacks, become the most dominant defensive player in generations and finally, finally, become the first all-defensive Heisman Trophy winner.

So I misread the contrast between Manziel and him at the SEC media days in July. While Manziel was out with rap stars and LeBron and jetting around everywhere to every party, every club, everywhere he could be seen, we hadn’t heard a peep from Clowney.

I asked him at the time what he had done all offseason.

“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.’’

You just never know what a person’s nature would make him do with the pressure off. Clowney had to wait another year to go to the NFL, and really didn’t have much left to play for.

So he sat down.

When Manziel won his lottery ticket, he went the party route. That was because he thought that this was his big moment. He didn’t believe his greatness would last into the NFL. I still think that’s what Manziel was doing.

But I thought Clowney knew his big moment wasn’t coming until he got to the NFL, and was focused on it. Wrong. His focus was gone.

“I’m not sure why a guy 30 minutes before gametime says `I’m not playing,’ but didn’t get any treatment,’ ’’ Brandt said. “It’s hard to figure things out.

“As you watch Clowney, he’s not playing bad. But he’s not playing up to No. 1-in-the-draft expectations.’’

So he has hurt his stock already in the draft?

“No, it’s not hurting him in the draft,’’ Brandt said. “It’s too early to tell you where a player’s going to fall. I don’t think anyone penalizes somebody for a bad day. We all have them.

“First thing you do is call the trainer at South Carolina and say `Which games was he hurt in?’ You total the whole season, then what you have to look for is characteristics and traits significant for success.’’

But those traits are going to start being in question soon. And Brandt did say Clowney didn’t come back this season in good enough shape.

Look, here’s how it went for Clowney. He had The Hit in the bowl game. Then, he heard discussion of whether he would be smarter to come back and play this year or to just sit out a year and wait to be eligible for the NFL draft.

He wore out during the season opener against North Carolina, though it was roughly 1,000 degrees that night. After the Georgia game, he complained about how coaches were using him, saying he should be moved around on the defensive line so that other teams can’t scheme around him so easily.

He missed practices the next week with bone spurs in his foot. He needed an IV before the Central Florida game, and now he waited till the last minute before the Kentucky game to tell coaches he couldn’t play because his ribs were hurting.

Spurrier isn’t getting enough credit for how he’s handling this. He is lightly needling Clowney publicly, but not going overboard or ripping him. He’s trying to get Clowney to find his own desire.

But this just doesn’t look like a guy who’s dying to play. He’s the kid who keeps missing school every day with a headache, a sore throat, the sniffles.

He’s also like the tall kid who basketball coaches see in the hall at school and put on the team. Since his childhood, Clowney was always headed for the NFL, but he was just the big kid the coaches – and the community – demanded was going to play football.

If it’s not burning inside him, people are telling him to sit out and he has already won the lottery, then maybe he can still get it back when he goes to the NFL next year. But for now, maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised by the next owie.
 

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

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