COLLISION COURSE WITH CLOWNEY
Texans prepare to take on familiar face against the Titans this Sunday
In January of 2013, Jadeveon Clowney stood at the line of scrimmage as a member of the South Carolina Gamecocks midway through the fourth quarter of the Outback Bowl. As a junior, Clowney ran up the middle of Michigan's offensive line to land the now-infamous hit on running back Vincent Smith.
The play catapulted Clowney as a top prospect on the list of several NFL executives around the league. One year later, the Houston Texans drafted Clowney with the first overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft.
The Texans paired the then 21-year-old defensive end alongside J.J. Watt to create one of the fiercest tandems over the past decade. Clowney would go on to play five seasons in Houston, becoming a three-time Pro-Bowler (2016-2018) and an All-Pro second-team member in 2016.
On Sunday, Nissan Stadium will be the place where Clowney and the Texans will take the field together for the first time since January of 2019. But instead of being draped in the Texans' red, white and blue, Clowney will be wearing silver, white, and blue as a member of the Tennessee Titans. For the first time in history, the two respective parties will compete as competitors.
"He's a very disruptive player, especially in the run game," Watt said about his ex-teammate on Wednesday. "He can knock a guy back. He can make a massively explosive play in the backfield. He can chase guys down. He's powerful. He's quick. He's fast. He's a very good player. You've got to be aware of where he is at all times because at any point, he can make a play."
The relationship between their former No. 1 pick and the Texans did not end on positive terms. The two parties failed to come to an agreement on a contract extension — which led to Clowney's jettison in a trade to Seattle.
Since he departed from Houston, it has been a tumultuous journey for Clowney. He registered his least productive season during his one-year stint with the Seahawks, and spent all of the 2020 offseason in search of the perfect team willing to give him a massive pay raise. He signed with the Titans two days before the start of the regular season.
While playing against the team who gave him away for two subpar linebackers and a third-round pick (2020), Anthony Weaver believes that the Texans will be facing a highly-motivated Clowney on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage.
"Personally, I have a lot of love and respect for Jadeveon," Weaver said. "He spent five years here and I know he'd love to go out there and put on a show. I expect our offense to accept the challenge and go out there and put their best foot forward and try to shut him down. I expect him to be motivated."
Other than preventing the Texans from putting points on the scoreboard, Clowney's success against Houston will depend on the number of times he can get to Deshaun Watson.
Coming into Sunday's game, he has yet to record a sack on the season. In fact, in a total of 19 career games played since leaving Houston, Clowney has only registered 4.5 sacks — which includes two post-season games.
But despite the limited sack numbers, Clowney has been successful at placing pressure on the opposing team's quarterback. Through the first four games of the season, Clowney has recorded 16 total pressures that resulted in five quarterback hits, according to PFF.
"You've got to get the ball out quick," Watson said. "He can definitely disrupt the game. I've seen it with my own eyes for two years. Seeing him in college and then watching him in the pros. Yeah, he's a problem for sure. We've got to make sure that we know where he is at all times when he's on the field."
Regardless of Clowney's regression over the past two seasons, the now 27-year-old defensive end is still a threat on any given Sunday. The numbers may not show it, but Clowney's presence on the defensive line is just as effective as his tenure in Houston.
However, all it will take is for Clowney to make another vicious highlight, similar to the Outback Bowl, to reestablish himself as one of the NFL's top defensive linemen.
While he would personally love it, let's keep our fingers crossed and hope that Clowney does not find his stride playing against his former organization on Sunday. For a team trying to salvage what is left after an 0-4 start, the last thing the Texans need is to get burned by an old flame.