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August 22, 2011

Clowney shooting toward starting role



Dylan Thompson took the snap and rolled right, hoping to buy some time as DeAngelo Smith worked to shed his man and get downfield. Thompson saw Smith break, but never threw; the reason was something more immediate had caught his eye.

A marauding defensive lineman had suddenly appeared directly in front of Thompson as he hastily tucked the ball back in and backtracked. Thompson, with a slight head start, ran back left as the hulking white-jerseyed menace kept chasing, his hands reaching out to grab Thompson as the quarterback ducked his head and hit the opposite sideline.

The play went for 1 yard. The sack, requiring only a touch of the hand in a don't-hit-the-QBs scrimmage, wasn't recorded.

Jadeveon Clowney chalked it up anyway.

"I could have sacked him like, three times, but they stopped me," Clowney good-naturedly said after South Carolina's latest scrimmage.

Clowney chased Thompson in the second scrimmage, and again starred in the third. During that one, he stuck a running back through the middle for a loss, and also had a couple more "sacks," where he simply wasn't being blocked enough to keep him off the quarterback.

The praises keep rolling in, and the evidence is clear - coaches aren't just talking to hear themselves speak when discussing the Gamecocks' prized acquisition. Clowney, running with the second-team defense, is overwhelming the second-team offensive line and sometimes, the first-teamers.

Then again, he's supposed to.

Coming to USC with some of the loftiest credentials imaginable and being already credited by preseason publications as an "impact player" or "player to watch," Clowney has lived up to the hype. No, there has been no game yet, just practice, but Clowney is rushing past his blockers with consistent efficiency and living up to the mantra that his motor never stops running.

"(Clowney) is going to be one of our rushers and he's going to play a lot," coach Steve Spurrier said. "He may even start, I'm not sure yet. We're still a couple of weeks away."

Defensive line coach Brad Lawing and defensive head Ellis Johnson have also praised the freshman, but stopped short of saying that Clowney would start on Sept. 3. The fact is, USC feels very comfortable with two veteran, play-making ends in Devin Taylor and Melvin Ingram, and those two deserve to start after being in the system for years.

But, Lawing and Johnson have each said it will be hard to keep Clowney off the field. He keeps making play after play, the quarterbacks being quickly introduced to him, and if he keeps it up, he'll at least cause a few heavy considerations.

"I told coach it's not a big deal to me, if I start," Clowney said on Saturday.

The coaches want to get as many athletes on the field as possible at once, which would naturally have Clowney in the discussion. The question is where - Ingram could potentially move back to a hybrid linebacker/pass-rusher position, supposedly, but that may mess up the rotation of having a spur on the field.

There are decisions to make, especially as the Gamecocks' tattered secondary attempts to find healthy bodies to plug in. Perhaps Johnson would stack the defensive front with Taylor, Ingram and Clowney and hope the combined pass-rushing talents will limit a high-octane passing offense like East Carolina's, so the defensive backs won't have to make plays.

Whatever the decision ultimately is, Clowney proves more and more that he needs to be on the field. The next 12 days will determine when and how often.

"I'm excited. I'm ready to make some plays or try to at least," Clowney said. "I need to keep working and get better each week."

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