Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Jadeveon Clowney came into the 2013 season as one of the most hyped defensive players in recent memory, but it's the All-American's lack of play that has him in the headlines of late.
Much to the surprise of pretty much everyone involved with the South Carolina football program, Clowney was a late scratch from last week's contest versus Kentucky, citing that his bruised ribs were too sore for him to play despite participating in practice all week long.
Clowney's absence from the game sparked numerous rumors about his commitment to the team and whether or not he's protecting his NFL Draft stock by not giving his all for the Gamecocks this season, but head coach Steve Spurrier got out ahead of the situation in his weekly address to the media, chalking the whole thing up to a simple miscommunication.
"Let's talk about Jadeveon briefly," Spurrier's statement began. "Jadeveon has a muscle strain near his rib area that caused him to miss the game last week against Kentucky. He was in pain and it was diagnosed later and obviously, we all handled it poorly, all of us did. The proper procedure and protocol when a player is hurt, he tells the (athletic) trainer or doctor, 'Hey, I can't go, this thing is hurting, there's too much pain,' and the trainer tells me, the head coach, he's out, he's not playing and I say, 'OK, he's out, he's not playing.' Simple as that. But we all didn't do that and it caused some confusion, we didn't know he wasn't suiting up until a little later, so we didn't handle it well."
The rationale seems believable enough. Ultimately, no one can determine if Clowney is fit enough to play better than himself. After missing practice early in the week, Clowney returned to the field on Wednesday and participated in full. He managed to clear the air about the miscommunication, attempting to put to bed the speculation that he is not 100 percent committed to the Gamecocks' quest for the SEC title.
"I know my situation with the team," Clowney said. "Our goals are still out there for us. I dedicate myself to this team and this university. I'm just going to do what I have to do to get better and come back out there and play." "I come out here every day since I've been here. You all should know that by now. I just take it one day at a time. I'm here to play for my team and my university."
Saying what the media wants to hear is one thing, but actually coming through on your word is something completely different. Even after a full day of practice on Wednesday, Clowney remains questionable for Saturday's road test versus Arkansas, and despite promising that he hasn't yet played his last game for South Carolina, he seems to be in no rush to get back to action.
"I will be back on the field," he said "I just don't know how long it will take to get back but I'm going to be back playing. I'm going to keep doing my thing, keep playing football and moving forward."
The vague nature of Clowney's statement won't ease concerns from South Carolina's fans, especially considering this is not the first time his effort and commitment to the team has been in question. After a truly dominating 2012 campaign in which he racked up 23.5 TFL and 13.0 sacks, while winning the SEC Defensive Player of the Year award, Clowney has opened this season sluggish by comparison with only 2.0 sacks in four games. While he has shown signs of his old self, he has also faced several double- and triple-teams, and has been accused of not giving it his all on every play.
The biggest question involving this case is whether or not Clowney is justified in taking it slow this season. Had NCAA rules allowed his departure from school following his sophomore season, Clowney most assuredly would have been due for a huge pay day as a top-five pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, if not the No. 1 overall selection. Is it right for him to make calculated moves with regard to his future while still enrolled at South Carolina and a member of the football team?
There are valid arguments on both sides. As an amateur athlete who has earned a lot of money for his university through jersey sales, ticket sales, television rights, and enrollment, Clowney is certainly entitled to seek what's best for his future financial situation, and an injury has the potential to change all that but quick. Clowney saw first-hand last season how catastrophic these turns can be when teammate Marcus Lattimore, arguably the best running back in the country, went down with a torn ACL to see his first- round draft status disappear. On the other hand, Clowney is far from the only high-profile NFL prospect in college football this season, yet others don't seem to be putting the cart before the horse.
Although the situation still needs to play out before we learn more, Spurrier came to the defense of his star player with some head-turning comments about Clowney's future.
"Let me say this about Jadeveon: if he never plays another snap here, we all should be thankful and appreciative that he came to South Carolina," Spurrier said. "We've won 26 games, two 11-2 years, the greatest seasons we've had in the history of this school, 120 years. So, none of us need to be upset at Jadeveon, none of us. He's played his part tremendously. And I am all for Jadeveon and his future and when he's ready to play; we are going to put him out there. I just want to clear the air that Jadeveon, all those No. 7 jerseys, all the money he's made for our school, he's been a tremendous, important player and we all, every Gamecock, including me, and the coaches and everybody out there, we need to be appreciative that he chose South Carolina. He could have gone anywhere in the country and he's a big reason that we've had those seasons and he's trying to do all he can to get ready to play."
It's an interesting statement from the Ole Ball Coach, as he's essentially admitting to the preferential treatment of Clowney. He knows, to a certain extent at least, that the university exploits its high-profile players for its own good and that he understands that a player must ultimately look out for himself, but at the same time the statement cannot be going over well with some of the players in the locker room. Should they be 'thankful' and 'proud' if Clowney bails on the team?
Could Clowney inadvertently start a new trend among young superstars, giving them the option to sit out their junior years to protect their draft stock? It's certainly possible. A version of this effect already exists in basketball, with players like Brandon Jennings opting to play a year in Europe rather than the NCAA to satisfy their NBA prerequisites. All we know for sure is that Clowney can put these rumblings to bed by simply returning to the field as soon as possible, giving his all for the program and further proving that he's one of the nation's most dominant forces.