Clowney's comeback complete with first Pro Bowl nod

HOUSTON (AP) For the first two injury-filled years of his NFL career many thought of Houston's Jadeveon Clowney as a bust.

Now he's healthy and proving the doubters wrong. The No. 1 pick of the 2014 draft is reveling in that fact he can now be called a Pro Bowler.

''I just want to keep playing for the Texans and let them know I'm trying to live up to be worthy of the number one pick and keep coming strong,'' Clowney said.

''I'm only getting better. I'm getting healthier as the year goes on. Everyone says you wear down, but I'm feeling a lot better the longer I've been in it.''

Clowney is tied for fourth in the NFL with a career-high 15 tackles for losses and his five sacks are also a career best.

The defensive end had perhaps the best two games of his career in the past two weeks where he has two sacks, three tackles for losses, five quarterback hits, a forced fumble and a batted down pass.

On Tuesday his performance this season was recognized when he was Houston's only player selected to the Pro Bowl.

''I put in a lot of hard work all offseason and told the guys I was going to try to make the Pro Bowl this year,'' Clowney said.

''They stuck behind me. We stuck together. We've been through a lot as a team. To be where we're sitting right now, we're doing good. We just have to keep playing.''

The Texans (8-6) can clinch their second straight AFC South title with a win on Saturday against the Bengals and a loss by the Titans, who play Jacksonville.

Clowney appeared in just four games as a rookie before having season-ending microfracture surgery. He was healthy in time for Houston's opener in 2015, but struggled with a variety of injuries and started just nine games.

This season he's missed just one game and his improvement has helped Houston's defense withstand the loss of J.J. Watt and the unit ranks No. 1 in the NFL in yards allowed.

''He's gone through some stuff the first couple of years and hasn't been able to get on the field and this year he's been able to stay on the field and been able to show what kind of ability he has,'' defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel said. ''So I think that it's good that other people recognize that ability and he's been helping us win. So it's good.''

It's easy to see that Clowney is having fun this season. He's always smiling and laughing as bounces around the locker room chatting with teammates, reporters and staff.

Things weren't always this way for the former South Carolina standout. After his microfracture surgery in 2014 when he wasn't able to put any weight on his leg for months he wondered about his future.

''Sitting on my couch for two months and I was just thinking to myself: `Am I going to be able to play another snap of football again?' At that time, that's what I was really thinking,'' he said. ''Am I going to ever get to play again? So that was probably the lowest point.''

Houston left tackle Duane Brown is very close to Clowney and one of his biggest supporters. He's also the player Clowney most often goes against in practice.

Brown was among the first to tweet congratulations to him on Tuesday night when Pro Bowl selections were announced.

''Clowney's a special person to me because I know everything he's been through in his short career, physically, mentally and everything it took to get to this point for him,'' Brown said.

''The surgery he had a couple years ago, (for) a lot of guys that's career threatening and they're never the same after that.

''For him to come back and not only be on the field but be this disruptive and be a game-wrecker the way he's been this year, even battling through more injuries ... I'm very happy for him.''

Some people thought that Clowney had lost confidence after struggling through two seasons where he failed to make the kind of impact expected from a top overall pick. Clowney denied that and said this is the way he always expected to play.

''I probably never lost the confidence to play football. I always knew I could play football,'' he said. ''I think other people probably lost more confidence in me than I did in myself. I'd say to myself: `Just wait until I get healthy.' I just kept saying that to myself: `Just wait until you get healthy and everything else is going to take care of itself.' I always knew I could play.''

And this season he's shown everyone else that, too.

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