Clowney says playing middle linebacker 'no big thing to me'

2012-08-09T01:15:00Z Clowney says playing middle linebacker 'no big thing to me'By SCOTT HOOD, The Times and Democrat
August 09, 2012 1:15 am  • 

COLUMBIA -- For some people, word that Jadeveon Clowney is set to line up at middle linebacker in certain situations constitutes an earthquake.

But for the former Mr. Football recipient in the state of South Carolina and No. 1 prospect in the nation, it's no big deal.

"I can play it, so it's no big thing to me," Clowney said. "It's like playing D-end. You get a read and go. There are some things that are different, but there is a lot that's the same too. They just want me to learn certain packages from the linebacker position."

Clowney played some linebacker for South Pointe High School a couple of years ago, so the position is hardly foreign to him.

Frankly, he welcomes the opportunity to attack quarterbacks from a new angle.

"I get to stand up and run downhill," Clowney said. "You can hit somebody harder than coming off the D-line. But you only have two or three steps coming off the D-line, but you have five or six steps at the middle linebacker position. I'm excited about playing both positions, really. It doesn't matter to me."

He said he first discussed the possibility of playing some linebacker with USC defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward a year ago, when he was a freshman. However, the specifics haven't been ironed out as to when Clowney will vacate his defensive end position and assume a spot on the second level.

"I don't know yet, it's up to them," Clowney said when asked when he would play linebacker. "(Ward) talked with me a couple of times about it last year. He said I might be playing it next year (2012). It's a lot like a position where I stand up on the outside."

Putting Clowney at middle linebacker in certain situations constitutes more proof that Ward wasn't kidding when he said he wants the USC defense to attack opposing offenses more through blitzing and other tactics this season, rather than sitting back.

"I like it a lot. One thing we always want to do is attack," Clowney said. "We'll be doing more of that this year. Last year, we sat back and did a lot of reading. All the guys have talked and said they like it a lot."

Clowney has yet to play linebacker in practice.

Clowney envisions his role this season to be similar to the way USC utilized Melvin Ingram in 2011 - playing multiple positions to confuse opponents and force them to scheme for a variety of looks from the Gamecocks.

In other words, quarterbacks must prepare for Clowney coming at them from different directions.

"I expected to come in and try to do the same things as Melvin last year," Clowney said. "They wanted me to do it and I said, 'Yes, I'll do it.' We'll see what happens. Playing linebacker, you still have to read guys. Coming downhill from the linebacker position, you need to read your man for your gap control."

Besides the possibility of playing a new position, Clowney has matured and developed in other ways since the end of last season. He's in better physical shape and he's emerged as one of the team leaders.

"I have to do that in order to help my team out," Clowney said. "Last year, I would get tired on the field a little bit. I'm in better shape now."

What did Clowney focus on the most between the end of last season and the start of preseason camp? Gaining strength. He now weighs 265 pounds compared to 255 last season.

YOUNG LINEBACKERS IMPRESS: Freshmen linebackers Kaiwan Lewis and T.J. Holloman have made a positive first impression upon USC linebackers coach Kirk Botkin. Better, with five senior linebackers ready to play their final seasons, there is no need to rush either player into the lineup.

Lewis is currently working at middle linebacker (Mike), while Holloman is working at outside linebacker (Will).

Paul Collins

Kenny Miles and USC worked through their sixth practice of preseason camp on Wednesday.

"The good thing for them is we have some good veteran leadership," Botkin said. "They have some guys to watch every day even when they're not getting reps or getting reps. They can still watch those guys and learn from them. I ask them questions all the time and pick their brain. Kaiwan Lewis and T.J. Holloman are sharp young men and they're both going to be something special in the future."

With fifth-year senior Shaq Wilson set for Will, Reginald Bowens and Damario Jeffery have seen most of the action at middle linebacker. Right now, it's a close battle between the two seniors, Botkin said.

"Day in and day out, it changes," Botkin said. "If we had to play today, Reginald would be the starter. But we're going to roll them and play more than three linebackers. We're going to try to keep them fresh and tell them to go as hard as they can until they can't go anymore. Tap themselves out and we'll get another guy in there. That's the kind of luxury we have right now."

Even though Botkin hasn't put together a depth chart after six practices, Wilson is clearly the leader at outside linebacker with Quin Smith, Cedrick Cooper and Holloman behind him.

"Shaq Wilson might be one of the smartest football players I've ever been around," Botkin said. "He understands not only what he does but everything around him. He is a coach on the field. In the meeting room, he is a vocal leader. He leads by example. I can't say enough good things about the kid. He's a joy to coach. I'm glad he's on my football team."

The physically gifted Cooper suffered a setback in the spring when he was limited with a lower back injury, but has recovered fully and now hopes to earn playing time at Will.

"He's doing well, but consistency is a problem," Botkin said. "Cedrick has all the tools athletically. He's coming along fine, but it's all about consistency with him. We just have to push him a little harder."

Botkin is very pleased with the high level of competition and how all the players are pulling each other.

"I keep telling them to push one another and that competition brings out the best in everybody," Botkin said. "It's making us better as a group."

At spur, DeVonte Holloman is the presumptive starter, but freshman Jordan Diggs has exhibited signs of grasping the defensive system and is earning Botkin's confidence in case he must play early, with Sharrod Golightly suspended.

"He's a sharp young man," Botkin said. "He's mixing in. He's running with the twos right now. He's competing with DeVonte. He's doing a very good job. The more stuff we've put in, he's starting to get a little confused. But he has shown flashes of brilliance."

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