Vrabel Knows Better Than Anyone What Clowney Can Do

David Boclair

NASHVILLE – If there is anyone in the NFL with reason to believe he can get the best out of Jadeveon Clowney, it is Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel.

After all, he has done it.

Vrabel’s one season as Houston Texans defensive coordinator (2017) was also Clowney’s best, statistically speaking. Or at least his best to date. And it happened at a time when a number of things could not have gone worse.

Two of Houston’s most prominent players on defense at the time – J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus – played just five games apiece because of injury. Vrabel’s unit finished last in the NFL in points allowed, 29 in yards per play allowed and were in the bottom sixth for red zone and goal-to-go defense.

As it turned out, that also was the one time in his six-year career that Clowney played all 16 games. Never, though, has he played so many positions.

“We did a lot with him,” Vrabel said this week. “We had a lot of injuries (and) we put him in a lot of different places to try to help us affect the game. … We asked him to do a lot, and he did do a lot for us.”

That season Clowney set career-highs for sacks (9.5), tackles for loss (21), quarterback hits (21), forced fumbles (two), fumble recoveries (two) and tackles (59). He was the only AFC player with at least 20 tackles-for-loss (21) and 20 quarterback hits (20).

It is as close as he has come to meeting the expectations that were set when the Texans drafted him first overall in 2014.

Vrabel and general manager Jon Robinson confirmed the Titans’ interest in Clowney, arguably the top free agent still available this season, but there is no indication that a deal to bring him to Tennessee is at hand. Cleveland, which has the most available salary cap space, reportedly has made a push to get him. And Seattle, the team for which he played last season, would very much welcome his return, as evidenced by quarterback Russell Wilson’s recent social media plea.

Clowney has been to three Pro Bowls, including in 2017, and for three straight years – beginning in 2017 – he has made the list of the NFL’s top 100 players (he has been as high as No. 32).

There have been those, however, who have questioned his work ethic and desire, even as far back as the days and weeks before he was drafted. Then again, Clowney is just 27 years old (his birthday was in February) so there is reason to think that maybe his best is yet to come.

If nothing else, Vrabel has a clear idea of just how good he can be.

“I know that when I coached JD [Clowney], JD was prepared,” he said. “He played extremely hard. … I never had an issue with any of JD’s effort on the field.”