Jadeveon Clowney’s NFL debut on Saturday night went about how you’d expect.
Some parts were good. Some, less than good.
To sum up the No. 1 overall pick’s performance against the Arizona Cardinals in the Houston Texans preseason opener this weekend: he’s every bit the physical specimen he was thought to be, and he still needs work in pass coverage.
It was as fun for Clowney as it was for fans.
“It was very fun just to get out there and play,” he said. “It was fun. It’s something you dream about. I got out there, had a little nerves at first, but then I got out there and had fun.”
Clowney displayed all the physicality that had draft gurus smitten about him before the draft — especially it being preseason Week 1, when there’s little game-planning and players are left to simply line up and play, letting their athleticism and instincts take over.
That was especially true when Clowney lined up on the same side as defensive end J.J. Watt. On the first play that he and Watt were stacked to the left, Watt tore through the line for a sack and eight-yard loss. Later in that alignment, Clowney blew through blockers for a five-yard tackle for loss on a run play.
Clowney said he didn’t even realize he and Watt were lined up together until it happened.
“I’m just going,” he said. “I didn’t even know he was beside me at first until I looked down. I was like, OK. He’s on my side. It’ll just be a competition with him trying to get to the quarterback. If I get there before him, I’m doing something right.”
But for all the hurt he seemed to put on whoever lined up against him, Clowney took his lumps, too — particularly in pass coverage, maybe the biggest challenge for a lifetime 4-3 defensive end trying to make the transition to 3-4 outside linebacker.
On one play near the goal line on Arizona’s opening possession, Clowney lost track of a tight end running a wheel route. Carson Palmer found him in the end zone for a touchdown, albeit one negated by penalty.
Clowney knew his mistake as soon as he made it.
“Stop looking back, stop looking back, stop looking,” he said with a laugh on Monday. “You look back at the quarterback, that guy — the ball’s going to him if you’re looking back. You’ve gotta keep your eyes on your guy and just run with him.”
Clowney said he had no doubts about his ability to learn how to cover.
“Oh yeah,” he said. “I’m confident about it. It’s just something I have to work to get better at, week by week, day by day.”
Maybe most important for Clowney, who’s coming off June sports hernia surgery, is that he made it through the game healthy. And the fact that he’s been held back by the coaching staff throughout training camp makes his debut all the more impressive.
Clowney, when asked for his first impression of NFL game speed:
“It was alright,” he said. “I mean, it wasn’t really getting me. I just have to do my job out there, you know. If I do my job, I don’t make the little mental mistakes, I probably have a better game.”
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