Critics continue to offer harsh assessments of the South Carolina defensive end despite the 6-foot-6, 266-pound Clowney being the most athletically gifted prospect in the draft. Clowney has defended his work ethic, and one of his former coaches spoke up on his behalf.
South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward disputed the "lazy" tag recently placed on Clowney by an anonymous NFL scout.
"It doesn't offend me because I know JD, and I know all this talk about JD being lazy and all this talk about him not playing hard, I know all that is motivating him," Ward told ESPN.com in reference to Clowney. "And I know JD because I coached the kid and I recruited him, and that's not who he is. JD plays hard all the time."
There were some doubts about Clowney's commitment after he pulled himself from a game against Kentucky because of a rib injury. There also were questions about Clowney’s conditioning after he reportedly looked tired in the season opener against North Carolina. Clowney finished the season with just three sacks in 11 games.
"People go back to that North Carolina game and say he wasn’t in shape and was tired. People said that because the other three defensive linemen were down on the ground and had their hands down, and JD was standing up with his hands on hips," Ward explained. "That's what seven guys on defense do: They stand up with their hands on their hips. He's an athlete, so he stood up with his hands on his hips. So that made him tired? Not at all. But that's perception. He was down there ready when the ball was snapped. It's all perception.
"Anytime you're as highly regarded as JD is, most people are going to try to find out something that's wrong with you. And that's what the NFL's job is: They're going to try and bring his grade down because it's about paying him. I understand it. I coached in the league [as an Oakland assistant in 2006]. I know how it works."
Ward pointed to practices as evidence of how hard Clowney worked.
"I never had an issue with him. If anything, you had to slow him down," Ward said. "There were days that Coach [Steve] Spurrier would have to tell us to take him off the field or they weren't going to get anything accomplished on offense. And that's the truth because they couldn’t get a pass off on him."
Even if the work ethic isn't an issue, Ward continues to encourage Clowney to raise his level of play in preparation for the NFL.
"My biggest to thing to JD is he's going into a grown-man league and everybody is big and fast in that league," Ward said. "It's not going to be just his talent that's going to help him become a good player there. He's going to have to spend more time studying his opponent, the guy he's going against in that league, in order to beat him. And he didn’t have to do that a lot in college.
"He's going to have to find out what that guy's weakness is and take advantage of it, if he's going to have success in the NFL. And he'll grow into that. He's very highly motivated. He wants to be the first pick in the draft. He wants to be as good as advertised. And there's no question he'll be a great pro."
Clowney defended himself during the NFL combine when asked about Spurrier's assertion that he didn't work as hard as some of the program's other top players from the past.
"I really don't have anything to say about it. It's just opinion," Clowney said in February. "I believe I did work hard. You can pull out any practice tape from last year and you'll see that. That's what I would tell them. I'll tell anybody that. I'm always going to be working hard. No matter where I end up, I'm going to work hard and give the team everything I've got."
For the Falcons to end up being that team, they likely would have to trade up for Clowney. Atlanta currently holds the sixth overall pick. The teams with the top three picks -- Houston, St. Louis and Jacksonville -- all seem willing to trade down, while Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said he is open to trading up.