HOUSTON (AP) Jadeveon Clowney was reminded this week that he injured his right knee in his NFL debut a year ago.
He had forgotten the exact date, but didn't need Tuesday's anniversary to reflect on the long and difficult path he's taken since then. Clowney had arthroscopic knee surgery after that first game and returned to play three other games. But he never felt right and eventually had season-ending microfracture surgery on the same knee.
He returned to practice on Aug. 17 and on Sunday in Houston's opener against the Chiefs, last year's top overall draft pick will return to the field feeling good again for the first time since his debut.
''I look back on it all the time,'' he said. ''I tell the guys, I say: `Man it's been so long. It's been a long rehab, a long everything.''
The outside linebacker isn't trying to do too much in his first game back. He has a simple plan for his return.
''Make plays,'' he said. ''Do whatever my team needs me to do. Just really go out there and make plays and be accountable and just help. Help win.''
Clowney wouldn't say if he's 100 percent healthy, just that he's feeling good. He said he feels completely confident in his knee and his ability to do the things he did before he was injured.
Coach Bill O'Brien has been encouraged by Clowney's work and is looking forward to seeing what he can do on Sunday. He isn't sure exactly how much he'll play, but will certainly place some limits on the 22-year-old.
''We've got to be smart about that,'' O'Brien said. ''I think if it's 75-play game, 80-play game, I don't think that's the amount of snaps he can play in the game. He hasn't played football in a long time. Just by the nature of coming back from being out for a while, I think we've got to put a little pitch count on him.''
Houston is looking for Clowney to beef up a defense that features last year's Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt and veteran defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, who signed with the Texans in the offseason. Everyone is excited for Clowney to return to the field and he smiled when recounting what his teammates have been telling him this week.
''They always tell me: `I'm just looking forward and ready for you to play. I'm ready to see you out there,''' he said. ''Everybody is ready to see me out there. I'm ready to see myself out there and performing and playing.''
Though Clowney didn't play much last season, he was able to study and learn Romeo Crennel's defense. He feels like things are easier now that he's had a year to take in the intricacies of it. He tries not to listen to what outsiders have to say about him, but he knows there are questions about whether he'll be the same after such a major surgery.
''I'm just out here to ... show them I can make plays and still do what I did before I left,'' he said.
When his teammates ask him what his rehabilitation was like, he doesn't sugarcoat how difficult it was. He tells them: ''I don't want nobody to go through that what I went through.''
Now that he's playing again, he would prefer not to think or talk about the past anymore. Clowney is looking ahead and eager to make his mark this season after his lost rookie year.
''Injuries happen you've just got to see how you come back from them,'' Clowney said. ''It's always the comeback that will be better ... so I'm looking forward to playing and helping my team win games this year.''
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