For the better part of a year now, for most Texans fans, Jadeveon Clowney has been more of a concept than an actual person, his action so sparse last season that any discussion of him as a part of the team's defense feels like we may as well be discussing a unicorn or the ghost of Reggie White.
So when Clowney returned to the field Monday morning for practice, it felt like a big deal — a big deal that, predictably, Texans head coach Bill O'Brien tried as best he could to make a much smaller deal:
How's it feel to have Clowney back, Coach?
"You know, it’s good to have everybody out here. Anytime you get guys back from injury, it’s always good to have as close to a full 90-man roster as you can. It’s good to have everybody out here.”
Yeah, but what about Clowney, Coach? How did HE look?
“I think all those guys that came back, (Akeem) Dent came back today. He came back. They all looked like football players.”
(paraphrasing this question on behalf of the media) Hey Coach, we don't give two shits about Akeem Dent… HOW IN THE BLUE HELL DID CLOWNEY LOOK?!? PLEASE?!?
“Again, we brought him back, walkthroughs, stretch, individual. I thought that’s basically what we wanted to see.”
The point of the above interaction, all of which was transcribed from O'Brien's post practice press conference on Monday morning (other than the sarcasm and cursing in the questions, which I added for effect). Clowney returned to the practice field, taking part in some light drills, stretching, and exercise before watching the offensive and defensive units run plays for the remainder of the practice. For his part, Clowney said he felt pretty good getting back onto the field:
“I felt pretty good. I’m just happy to be back out here with my teammates. Taking it one day at a time. It means a lot to me, you know, to be out here, practicing with the guys. It’s been a long time, so I was very excited to be out there today.”
When asked how he felt after the workout and what percentage of his normal self he felt like, here's what Clowney had to say:
“No soreness today. We’re just building up. I hope we just stay like that, maintain, keep going forward. I feel better than I did last year after my first surgery, so that’s all I’m going to say on that. I feel great, just saying what they tell me. Everyday we’re going to build up from what I did today, so tomorrow will be more than what I did today, so just building to hopefully stay where I’m at.”
Both O'Brien and Clowney were noncommittal on when fans would see the 2014 number one overall pick perform on the field, O'Brien giving a curt "I don't know" and Clowney closing out his session with the media answering "We'll see," a far cry from last year when Clowney probably would've given three target dates and a Power Point presentation with a picture of his MRI embedded. Indeed, his candor about injuries last season at times got the then-rookie into some hot water with his head coach, when O'Brien would sarcastically refer to him as "Dr. Clowney."
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Obviously, Clowney's knee overall, whether it's really repaired or not, is a huge storyline. However, assuming that the knee doesn't give him any problems, it will be very interesting to see how they bring him along. The Texans first five games are all against teams with decent to spectacular quarterback play — vs KC, @ CAR, vs TB, @ ATL, vs IND — where the mere presence of a capable Clowney as a pass rusher could be the difference in a win or a loss, especially in coin flip games like Kansas City at home, and road games at Carolina and Atlanta.
O'Brien hinted that Clowney would be doing more in pads next week, but obviously everything is day to day with the outside linebacker right now. At this point, any setback necessitating a return to the PUP list would be a huge buzzkill for Texan fans who seem mentally prepared to root for a team that will try to do a "homeless man's 2013 Seahawks" impersonation this year — killer defense, run the football, game manager QB.
For now, it's nice to see the mythical creature that we've heard so much about, The Magnificent Clowney, actually in front of our very eyes doing football things.
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