One of the first mistakes a team can make with Jadeveon Clowney is trying to block him one-on-one without any help.
The second mistake is thinking that he’s merely a force of one on South Carolina’s defensive line.
“A lot of people around the country know about Jadeveon Clowney, but they’re going to find out that there’s a lot more to our defensive line this season than just one guy,” said junior Kelcy Quarles, one of the interior anchors of a talent-laden South Carolina defensive line.
Sure, No. 7 is the guy who makes it all go, but there’s going to be a race to get to the opposing quarterback this fall in Columbia, and that mad dash starts Thursday night when North Carolina visits Williams-Brice Stadium.
“I love playing beside Clowney and love the way he opens up things for everybody else,” Quarles said. “He’s like a brother, but there are a lot of guys on this defensive line who feel like they’re overlooked. All that’s going to do is give us more fuel to go out there and show what we can do.
“We’ll push each other to see who can get back there the fastest. That’s my kind of race.”
Clowney racked up 13 sacks a year ago to finish second in the SEC. There’s no telling how high he could go this season, and if teams sell out to stop him, senior end Chaz Sutton is sure to make them pay on the other side. And if it’s not Sutton, Quarles and J.T. Surratt make for an imposing duo inside.
The Gamecocks also plan to move Clowney around this season. Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward likes his “rabbits” package where Clowney and Sutton shift inside on passing downs with smaller, quicker players manning the end spots. Redshirt freshman Darius English looks to be a natural in that role and is a blur coming off the edge.
“I believe in all those guys,” Clowney said. “I talk to Chaz every day. I tell him that everybody’s going to be looking at me, but that this is his season. It’s the same thing with Kelcy.
“We’re going to be coming every game.”
Ominous words, indeed.
But Clowney has pretty much been unblockable this preseason, and his defensive line mates haven’t been too far behind.
In one of the Gamecocks’ final scrimmages, quarterback Connor Shaw said it was all he could do just to get the shotgun snap.
“I’d catch the snap, and he’d be on top of me in a half-second,” Shaw said. “That’s just how good he is. It’s not like our left tackle (junior Corey Robinson) is bad. Clowney’s just that good. Across the board, we’re strong up front on defense, and that’s just made our offensive line that much better.”
With so much inexperience at linebacker, South Carolina’s defensive line will be counted on to wreak even more havoc than it did a year ago.
Not a problem, said Quarles, who’s bulked up some 20 pounds and plans to play at 305 this season.
He also plans to play his way out of Clowney’s shadow.
“He sets up things for the tackle, but I set up some things for him, too,” said Quarles, who had eight tackles for loss last season. “That’s the way it’s going to be all year. Our mindset is to go out and dominate no matter who’s out there.
“One play, it may be Clowney. The next, it may be me, J.T., Chaz or any of the other guys. They’re going to have a lot more to worry about than just No. 7.”
Ward has reminded Clowney more than once that former South Carolina star defensive end Melvin Ingram (a first-round draft choice in 2012) had most of his sacks when he was lined up inside in the Gamecocks’ “rabbits” package.
“If we put him inside, people will have to figure out how they’re going to block him – one-on-one or are they going to slide their front to him?” Ward said. “It’s easier off the edge because they can have a back chip him or keep a tight end in to get to his side and have one less guy in the route.
“When you keep him inside, he creates more issues.”
Either way, Clowney has a knack for getting to the ball at warp speed, mesmerizing even his teammates.
“They’ll be like, ‘How do you get to the ball so fast?’” Clowney said. “I always tell them, ‘I just have a nose for the ball, know where it’s going to be.’
“It’s like I have a feeling before the play sometimes where it’s going.”
Quarles wouldn’t argue that.
“You can’t really explain it, but I still plan on beating him back there some this year,” Quarles said. “We all do.”