By Zac Ellis
South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was already rumored to be missing the Gamecocks' April 13 spring game as a precaution against possible injury, but it now looks even less likely that Clowney will suit up. Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward told reporters after Tuesday's practice that the Gamecocks' star might not see the field again this spring. A neck sprain kept Clowney out of Tuesday's practice, but it didn't sound like Ward was losing sleep over whether his defensive star would play: "Whether he goes another snap (this spring), I don't care," Ward said.
Based on that quote alone, it's hard to imagine the South Carolina coaching staff wanting to risk any harm to its most important player.
This is probably the smart move for the Gamecocks and for Clowney, who is coming off a monster sophomore season in which he tied for third in the nation in sacks (13) and second in tackles for loss (23.5), finished sixth in Heisman voting and became the first sophomore to claim the Hendricks Award given to the country's best defensive end. Had Clowney been a junior, he would likely be the consensus No. 1 pick in the upcoming NFL draft.
Though Clowney was required to return to school for one more year, his junior season in Columbia is little more than a formality on his road to a pro career. That's why Clowney made headlines last month for taking out a $5 million life insurance policy with the NCAA to protect himself from injury. There was even some debate earlier this offseason over whether or not Clowney should play in 2013, though Clowney denied ever considering sitting out. Had he elected to skip his junior season, his pro stock likely wouldn't have dropped. There's not much else Clowney has to prove in 2013, though he could push his name even higher in the South Carolina record books. He's only eight sacks off the team record (29) and 19 tackles for loss short of the program mark (54.5), both after only two years in school. With a repeat of last season's numbers, Clowney can easily attain those records -- assuming he stays healthy and the Gamecocks' coaches keep him on the field.