Most eyes watching preseason football on Saturday afternoon were trained on the exploits of Johnny Manziel. But in Arizona, the first overall selection in the 2014 draft was showing why fans should be excited about his potential, and cautious about how much he still has to learn. Houston Texans defensive end/outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney took the field for the first time in an NFL game when the Texans met the Cardinals, and he displayed good and bad in a few drives before Houston's second-team defense was shuttled in.
Playing a stand-up "LEO" end role on the right side of the defensive front alongside J.J. Watt, Clowney displayed more than once his incredible field speed -- when Watt sacked Carson Palmer on the third play of Arizona's first drive, Clowney was right behind him. On that play, Clowney messed left tackle Jared Veldheer up completely with a bull rush while Watt took care of left guard Jonathan Cooper. And then, early in Arizona's second drive, there was this tackle for loss of Cards running back Stepfan Taylor, who's probably still wondering where the truck came from.
At the same time, Clowney appeared too fast when the Cardinals implemented slower-developing run plays, and you can see how NFL offenses will have him on a string for a while. And when defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel called for Clowney to drop into coverage, he gave up a touchdown to tight end John Carlson that was negated by a penalty. And the fact that Clowney came into the league without much in the way of developed hand and foot moves showed up at times -- he's incredible when he beats blockers straight up, but he has trouble disengaging at other times, and tends to wrestle when he should be heading upfield.
"You can tell that he has talent, but he hasn’t been out here that much," Crennel said on Aug. 1. "He’s recovering from that little minor surgery he had, so we’re still working with him through that...he’s beginning to be in on more plays and do more things and I think that as soon as we can get him out there more, he will improve more.”
Once Clowney gets a spin move and an inside counter together, he'll have the potential to be lethal -- especially if the Texans keep lining him up on the same side as the unblockable Watt. This is a process that will take time, especially given the fact that Clowney's surgery to repair a sports hernia put him back a bit when it was time to grasp more advanced concepts.
“It was just like backyard football," Clowney said after the game, a 32-0 loss to the Cards. "It was alright. I got loose and got out there and saw the lights. Back in college, my first game, I was a little nervous and everything, and my first NFL game, I was still a little nervous, but once you get that first contact, it’s like, ‘Alright, the nerves are gone’ and you just play football.”
It came in flashes, but if you were watching, you saw a couple times in which Jadeveon Clowney looked to be exactly what the Texans wanted.