In the past four seasons Jadeveon Clowney, the first overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft, has been with four different teams due to injuries. Because of this, Clowney hasn't been able to put a full focus on his training camp performances for the last three seasons. In 2018, he was eased into camp as he recovered from a knee injury. In 2019, he was traded midway through training camp to the Seattle Seahawks and had to learn a new defensive system days before Week 1. In 2020, he didn't even have an NFL home until the Tennessee Titans signed him in the middle of the regular season.
The myriad of injuries, along with the perception that he had a reputation for being selfish and disconnected, have clouded the perception of Clowney, who was at the time considered the top defensive end prospect in football, and played a factor in why he's bounced around the NFL. But, one week in and Clowney has been shattering preconceived notions during his first training camp with the Cleveland Browns.
"I'm just trying to make plays, be flashy," the former South Carolina rusher said. "Show those guys I'm still me.
"I don't think I've reached my potential yet. Every time I get going, I get hurt and something happens. I've fallen back and taken time off. Hopefully, this year I just keep going up and getting better."
Whether pressuring Baker Mayfield into rushing a pass or flashing his unique combination of size and quickness while doing drills alongside fellow defensive star and former No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett, Clowney is giving the Browns a glimpse of what he can do.
During Tuesday's practice, the first this summer for the Browns in full pads, Clowney got the better of Pro Bowl right tackle Jack Conklin several times. The defense isn't supposed to lay a finger on Mayfield in training camp, but it's clear Clowney would've been in for a multi-sack day had this been an actual game.
"He has been disruptive, certainly in the run and the pass game," Cleveland head coach Kevin Stefanski said Wednesday. "He is a long athlete with power. He and Jack Conklin, that is two pros going at each other. It's fun to watch. I think he's fitting into what we are doing and who we are. This is the first time at length he is around his teammates. I think he's assimilating well."
"At the start of all our defensive meetings, we list the bone collectors of the day and he was our Bone Collector," said rookie linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, describing the award given to defensive players for being disruptive. "He definitely shined for us."
The 28-year-old spent last season with the Titans, where a season-ending knee injury limited him to just eight games. That's been the story of Clowney's NFL career – injuries and untapped promise. In the first game of his rookie season with Houston, Clowney, who played through a sports hernia injury in his final season at South Carolina, injured his right knee and needed surgery. Eventually, he needed a microfracture procedure to fix it.
Clowney also has dealt with foot issues, elbow sprains, concussions, lower back problems and groin strains. Not only did Clowney deal with physical injuries, but there's also the mental and emotional strain being sidelined constantly caused as well.
"When you are healthy, you have a lot of fun," said Clowney. "When you have been playing for seven years and I have been dealing with injuries seven years, it is kind of not fun being out there, but when you are taking care of your body, you are in good health and you know what you love.
"It's fun and exciting to be out there moving around and feeling good."
Thankfully, Clowney feels good physically, and mentally, now and the Browns are monitoring his workload in camp to keep him that way. That focus on his personal well-being, along with the fact the Browns are a Super Bowl contender, are reasons why Clowney signed with Cleveland back in April. But, the idea of playing opposite of Myles Garrett, however, was a reason alone for Clowney to come onboard.
The pairing of Clowney and Garrett could be frightening for opposing offensive lines and quarterbacks. So much so that it's not far-fetched to believe both players could reach double-digit sack totals in 2021. They've forged a fast friendship, and Clowney has been impressed by Garrett's ability to turn the corner and get to the quarterback.
"I think what stands out the most about Myles is he works hard, for one," Clowney said. "The way he bends and stays low the whole time, he's got some crazy bend moves. I told him, you have two moves and you use them very, very well, and it's basically unstoppable.
"So good luck for the tackles out there stopping that dude this year. I'm just happy to be on his team, playing beside him because I think it's going to help me out this year."
That's what the Browns hoped to see when they added him as their final free-agent piece to their newly re-loaded defense. As the team gears up for their first preseason exhibition against the Jacksonville Jaguars, all eyes will be on Clowney to see if he can live up to the expectations set out for him. The early returns in camp are promising and Clowney looks plenty capable of being a key difference-maker.