How Can Jadeveon Clowney Improve?

The reasons why Jadeveon Clowney is an elite prospect are easily recognizable.  Clowney is an athlete in every regard.  He is a menace on the edge despite being constantly double-teamed.  When you don’t block him at all, the resulting hit on your running back ends up on SportsCenter for months at a time.  He checks every box.

So is there something that he could work on to help his transition to the NFL?  His attitude and demeanor have been much discussed this year in the media, but we took a look at what he’s actually doing on the field.  And we found something other than clichés designed to take up segments on major networks.

Specifically, we looked at Clowney’s game against Clemson from this past year.  One thing that stuck out was Clowney’s issues with keeping contain on several occasions.

Film breakdown after the jump.

Play 1:

Sammy Watkins is coming in motion pre-snap from the near side.  The SC defender standing alone on the far side will have responsibility for Watkins.  That leaves 7 Clemson players (including Boyd) vs. 6 South Carolina defenders in the box.  With a run look, it’s especially important that South Carolina defenders stay disciplined.

This is shortly after the snap. You can see Clowney (#7) seemingly standing still. In reality, South Carolina is running a stunt and Clowney is waiting for the DT to clear. If you look at how the Clemson offensive line is blocking, they’re setting up for a run up the middle. The left tackle is trying to run the DT upfield. This is a similar concept to the Wham play.

Really, though, South Carolina is in pretty good position to defend this play because of the defensive play call. Clowney is in the inside and has the athleticism to outwork Clemson’s interior linemen to make a play. South Carolina has two other defenders not engaged at this point. Clowney’s responsibility at this point is to gain outside leverage against the left guard who’s waiting for him so the other 2 South Carolina defenders can clean up the play inside.

Instead, Clowney tries to stay unblocked and cut inside of the left guard.  As you can see, South Carolina has a defender that nearly tackled the Clemson RB.  With Clowney inside, they basically have 2 defenders against one blocker and the RB.  But, because Clowney cut inside rather than holding the left guard off, the left guard is able to get into the way of both defenders.

The Clemson RB recognizes this and cuts to the outside and gets a large gain.  If Clowney would have held his position, the unblocked safety would have had an easy play to make in the middle of the field.  Because he chose not to just maintain contain, Clemson got an extra 5-7 yards off this play.

Play 2

This is the same formation except there is no motion man (Sammy Watkins in the previous play).  These are formations that South Carolina surely knew were coming as Clemson runs plays out of this a large percentage of the time.  With no motion man, this is typically going to be a pass play.  The FB is in a position on the left to either block/chip Clowney or flare out for a dump off option.

In this case, the Clemson FB flares out for a dump off option. There is no stunting going on in this play. So, Clowney should be maintaining outside contain. This accomplishes two things. First, he has contain and makes the pocket a lot smaller for Boyd. Second, he may force the Clemson FB to help in pass protection temporarily. So, if Boyd does want to dump it off, the FB is not going to be an option until later in the play.

As you can see, Clowney decides to try to beat his guy inside. The Clemson left tackle engages him and Clowney has no real use for his hands at that point.

This gives Boyd the easy option to step into the space that Clowney vacated and step into an easy throw for a first down.

Play 3

Pre-snap, Clemson has a decent set-up to run the ball.  With Boyd, Clemson is 8 vs. 7 in the box excluding the South Carolina safety lined up past the first down marker.  The Clemson RB (#25) comes in motion and stops into a more traditional RB position next to Boyd.  With Clemson’s numbers advantage and formation, this is going to be a zone read a pretty high percentage of the time in the redzone.  With the RB on Boyd’s left, Clowney’s responsibility is going to be to maintain outside contain to force Boyd to hand it off to his RB.  If he does that, South Carolina has 2 unblocked defenders at the edge of the formation.  Forcing a hand off is South Carolina’s best bet to stop this play.

For some reason, South Carolina runs a stunt similar to the first play. The right DT goes outside of Clowney and is going to have outside contain responibility. The South Carolina defender to the RB side of the formation has done a very good job at maintaining the outside edge in case of a hand off.

Now, look at Clowney. He should be filling the large hole between the left tackle and left guard. Instead, he’s wandering aimlessly inside, anticipating a hand off no doubt. You can see that Boyd’s eyes are on Clowney. With the DT going upfield, Clowney is his new read.

Seeing Clowney out of position, Boyd makes the correct read and holds onto the ball.  At this point, he’s sprinting to the hole that Clowney vacated to go inside.  Clowney gets engaged.  Because he was lazy on this play, he’s engaged pretty easily.  You can see another South Carolina defender directly to Clowney’s left.  That should be the defender that takes on the left guard’s block.  Clowney should be up the field a couple yards waiting for Boyd to cut outside of the offensive linemen holding off the remaining interior South Carolina lineman.

Because Clowney is engaged, the defender next to him has to run a couple yards further than Clowney would have had to in order to make the play.  Clowney is still engaged by the left guard and has basically been taken out of the play.  Because of those extra couple yards, the South Carolina defender can’t make the play and Boyd scores a touchdown.

Now let’s be clear… Clowney is still as elite a non-quarterback prospect as you will see in many years.  He does many things very well and will always be a supreme athlete.  But, he does have some technique issues from time to time.  He will almost certainly be a productive player regardless of whether he improves.  But, if he can improve some of his technique, he can become an elite NFL defensive end.

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