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Clowney can't help but stand out

8/17/2014

This regime's biggest message to the players on the Houston Texans is that none of them matters more than the team.

They're reminded of this every day. By their coaches, by their jerseys that lack names, by the decals on their lockers that instruct them to put the team first. With rookies, that message intensifies.

The Texans have no interest in crowning superstars. Sometimes, though, it can't be helped.

That much was evident during last night's game, the Texans' home preseason opener, against the Atlanta Falcons. On back-to-back plays, outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney looked like a superstar. He zoomed past a guard and leveled a running back. Then he zoomed past a tackle and took down the quarterback.

Plays like that are why he was the first pick in the draft. When asked about them, though, coach Bill O'Brien's answer remained consistent with his efforts to remind everyone that he considers Clowney to be one of the guys.

“I think anytime a player makes two big plays like that, no matter who the player is, whether it’s Clowney or [J.J.] Watt or [Brooks] Reed or J-Mo (Tim Jamison), [D.J.] Swearinger or K-Lew [Kendrick Lewis], whoever it is defensively, that helps the sideline," O'Brien said. "I can remember in other places I’ve been, when a guy makes a defensive play that’s a big hit, it really lights up your sideline. So it’s great for the defense, it’s great for our team and I thought it helped our whole sideline.”

That's often how O'Brien handles questions about Clowney. He was the main attraction at rookie minicamp, but here's what O'Brien said then:

"I think all these guys being rookies, they all came in here and it’s an eye-opener. Just like anybody, it’s not just one guy. It’s an eye-opener. It’s a different level of competition. All these guys have come in, they’ve been on time, they’ve worked hard. So they just need to take it one day at a time and continue to work hard."

By organized team activities, O'Brien was willing to give a little bit more. He began a response by talking about rookies in general, before adding that Clowney was working hard to learn a new position.

The message remained. No matter how talented you are, no matter how high a draft pick or how big a star you were in college, you're starting over here.

The thing is, though you can say Clowney is just one of the rookies all you want the player shattered that notion with the same force delivered to Falcons running back Antone Smith on Saturday night.

A day removed, O'Brien gave more.

"Clowney has come in here and worked hard, he’s a very instinctive player for a rookie," he said on Sunday. "He’s a hard-working guy. He’s a guy that when he’s played in these games, he’s played well. He’s been able to show his pass-rushing abilities. He’s been able to show his defense against the run ability. He’s dropped into coverage, so he’s done a lot of different things for us and he just needs to keep improving and that’s what he’s going to do."

As he does that, what's already true will become even more apparent. Clowney is not just one of the many. He is special, even if he's not allowed to think that way yet.