Now healthy, Texans' Jadeveon Clowney puts versatility on display

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HOUSTON -- Coming out of college as the No. 1 overall draft pick, Houston Texans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney was known as a tremendous athlete. Now his knowledge of football is making him more versatile in his third season.

Clowney is playing more at defensive end opposite J.J. Watt this season, and Texans coach Bill O’Brien said he thinks Clowney's knowledge of the game makes the change easier.

“He’s the type of player that you can move around and ask him to do different things because he understands football,” O’Brien said. “He really understands blocking schemes, I believe. He really likes to play all different spots. He’s into the game plan every week.”

O’Brien said the Texans hadn’t been able to utilize Clowney’s versatility because he missed 15 games of his first two NFL seasons to injury. The coaching staff has been able to work with Clowney more because he was on the field for most of training camp.

“We were able to move him around,” O’Brien said. “Because if you’re not out there, once you do get back, you’re really just a one-spot guy. But when you’re out there and you’re getting all the reps, ‘Hey J.D., we’re going to stick you here today. Tomorrow we’re going to put you there.’

“And on top of the fact that he’s a very bright player; he really understands the game. Because he understands the game, you’re able to move him around. Plus the fact he’s healthy and he’s out there, that helps too.”

Before his rookie season, Clowney needed hernia surgery. He also suffered a concussion during the preseason, and then in his first career NFL game, he significantly injured his left knee. He needed two surgeries on the knee to repair the lateral meniscus tear.

Last season, Clowney missed time with a Lisfranc sprain in his right foot and an injured back.

Now that Clowney is healthy, he is showing flashes of why he was the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft. In Sunday’s 23-14 victory over the Chicago Bears, Clowney played all over the field. He registered a sack, four combined tackles -- including two for a loss -- and three quarterback hits.

Clowney said the Bears double-teamed him more than usual. He joked after the game that it was “rough,” and that he understood what Watt goes through each game at defensive end.

“Whatever they want me to do,” Clowney said. “I’m down there fighting with 350-pound linemen. It isn’t fun, but you have to do your job, go out there, compete and do extra.

“It’s a lot easier than being an outside linebacker. You just listen to the call, move to the left or the right a couple of steps and get off the ball, stay in your gap.”

While the 6-foot-5, 270-pound Clowney might be a little leaner than a typical defensive lineman, O’Brien said Clowney makes up for it in other ways.

“He has tremendous explosion, and he’s got a real knack for finding the football,” O’Brien said.

Nose tackle Vince Wilfork, one of the leaders of the defense, said he has noticed the difference in Clowney now that he is healthy.

“He’s worked his tail off this year, all offseason and coming back in shape,” Wilfork said. “He’s playing, he’s happy, he’s smiling. That’s what we want. The more we can have that, the better this team will be.”