By: Alex Del Barrio, Sportsradio 610By Alex Del Barrio

HOUSTON (CBS HOUSTON) – Jadeveon Clowney erased any lingering questions about his talent and commitment to football after his breakout performance that included his first career interception in Houston’s AFC Wild Card victory over the Oakland Raiders last Saturday.

Clowney has been one of the standard bearers for the top ranked yardage allowed defense in the NFL in 2016. That role is usually reserved for three-time Defensive Player of the Year JJ Watt. However, when the Texans roll into Gillette Stadium to square off against the New England Patriots in the AFC Divisional round, it Clowney that will be leading the defense. That fact would have been a surprise to many football pundits that were ready to write off the former top overall selection after his first two seasons in the league.

Clowney has stated since the start of training camp that his primary goal was to stay on the field after suffering a variety of injuries in his first two seasons including micro-fracture surgery on his knee that severely limited his production in 2015. He played in 14 of the 16 games this season and had the second most tackles for loss in the league all while earning second team all-pro honors and a trip to his first Pro Bowl.

With the increased production and overall health has come a much more jovial Clowney. For the first time Clowney is being recognized by the outside world as someone who was worthy of his top overall draft slot.

“I didn’t care,” on the positive praise he’s starting to receive after his showcase game in the playoff win over Oakland. “The guys in the locker room have seen me doing it all season. They’re like, ‘Just keep making plays for us and just keep trying to put us in situations to win games. Just try to go out there and makes plays.’ That’s what we’ve been doing.”

Nose tackle Vince Wilfork, who will be playing in his 24th career postseason game, has served as a mentor to Clowney since he arrived as a free agent two years ago

“Sometimes, you have to figure out the way, how you can get greatness out of people,” Wilfork said of his mentorship with Clowney. “He was one of the ones where when I came here, they were like, ‘Hey, make sure you that you are leaning on him, talking to him, teaching him.”

Wilfork hadn’t even signed yet with the Texans before mentoring his new protegé as he made sure of Clowney’s commitment to improving before he ever signed.

“Before I even signed I walked into the training room and he was in there doing rehab and I said, ‘I’m not coming here unless you are committed to being the best.’ He said, ‘I am.’ I said, ‘OK,’ and then I signed here. I held him accountable,” Wilfork said.

That mentorship has worked, and we are starting to see the dividends of the 11th year pro’s commitment to Clowney.

“Vince has taught me so much,” Clowney said of Wilfork’s consistent on-field teachings. “He’s a smart player. One of the smartest defensive players I think I’ve played with. He knows what’s going on. He knows what to look for when he sees certain formations. To have him in the room with me and learning from him, it’s big.”

Wilfork has hinted at retirement over the last several weeks and spent a lot of time on Tuesday reflecting on his career. He spoke like a proud papa when talking about Clowney and his production this season.

“He’s been rolling. A Pro Bowler this year, making plays like we always knew he could do,” Wilfork said. Sometimes you need some time to grow up. Some people come in the game already matured. Some people take time. He was one of those ones where you saw the potential. He was just raw. He needed to understand how to be a professional and what it’s going to take to be at his best. I think at this point in his career, he understands that.

Alex Del Barrio  and Matt Murphy can be heard on Saturday afternoons 4-7 pm  Follow Alex Del Barrio on Twitter: @alexdelbarrio