Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney must produce...or else

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Potential All-Pro. Once-in-a-generation talent. The next Lawrence Taylor.

This is just a small sampling of the platitudes that have been lobbed at Jadeveon Clowney. They began coming in before he wrapped up his collegiate career at South Carolina. Before he set foot in the NFL. Before the Houston Texans made him the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft.

You could say the hyperbole train was set in motion simply by one play — a monster hit that you’ve seen replayed over, and over, and over (and over) again.

That monster hit was the exclamation on a spectacular 2012 campaign for Clowney, who tallied 23.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks in a program-defining season. It thrust him into the national spotlight, to the top of mock draft boards, and allowed him to cruise through 2013, his final year with the Gamecocks.

This leads us to today, a little over two months until the season begins and we get our first look at what should be a downright scary Houston front seven. After all, teaming Clowney with J.J. Watt, the former Defensive Player of the Year, was the incentive to take him first overall.

On paper, it’s hard not to like the fit for Clowney, a physical marvel of freakish proportions. The 6-foot-5, 266-pounder, who ran a jaw-dropping 4.53 forty at the NFL Combine, rounds out a quartet of young, athletic linebackers in coordinator Romeo Crennel’s 3-4 defense. With an 83-inch arm span, he has the ideal build to cause nightmares for opposing offenses.

Assuming Clowney masters the transition to outside backer — he played defensive end in college — he should regularly stuff the stat sheet, especially with Watt drawing consistent double teams. It’s a big assumption, however, as rookies often struggle to stand up and play in space. The assignments between defensive end and outside linebacker are drastically different.

If he learns, then chances are that he’ll get playing time.

The faster Clowney adapts to his new position, the faster he gets on the field, according to Crennel.

“He’s going to earn his spot, in my eyes. … If he learns, then chances are that he’ll get playing time,” Crennel said, via the Houston Chronicle. “If he doesn’t learn, then he probably won’t get as much playing time. And now then that’s where [Whitney] Mercilus, he’s going to be there and he’s going to play. Or if it’s Brooks [Reed], Brooks is going to play.”

This is all new territory for Clowney, having to find his way as the small fish in a big pond. No longer is he the big man on campus, able to take plays off here and there. His highly scrutinized work ethic will be under the microscope until he proves himself.

The Texans need him to get with the program sooner rather than later. It would be a colossal disappointment — not to mention an indictment of the team’s brain trust — if Clowney, with all of his hype, isn’t an immediate starter.

Otherwise, the inevitable “what if?” game will start. What if the Texans drafted another player at No. 1 overall? What if Clowney never lives up to his potential? What if Clowney is a bust? What if … ?

Clowney earned his acclaim and fully-guaranteed $22.272 million contract for what he did on Saturdays. Now the Texans better hope — pray, really — they see it on Sundays.

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