COLUMBIA — Perhaps no first-year assistant in college football is in a more interesting position than Deke Adams, South Carolina’s new defensive line coach.
When Brad Lawing left to coach Florida’s defensive line in the offseason, Adams came down from North Carolina and was handed the likely No. 1 NFL draft pick in 2014, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
“I find myself at times talking to him and getting ready to yell at him about something that he didn’t do, and he makes the play two yards or three yards deep in the backfield, and he didn’t do things the way that we taught,” Adams said. “A player of that ability, he can make some mistakes at times and make up for it.”
On Friday night, during South Carolina’s first practice, spectators will probably see Adams coaching Clowney the same way he coaches the other linemen — encouraging, guiding through drills, admonishing mistakes. But Adams understands Clowney is not a typical college player.
“There’s no ‘You do this and you can get away with it and it’s OK,’ ” Adams said. “If he does something and it’s not the way he’s been taught, I’ll get on him just like I get on anybody else, because I expect it to be done. Obviously, there is a difference when he doesn’t do it the way I want him to do it and he doesn’t make the play, and then he doesn’t do it the way I want him to do it and he makes the play. My tone of voice is a little bit different when I’m talking to him.”
One thing Adams and defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward sometimes discuss with their line is how to avoid being held. They want Clowney to listen, because this could be a significant issue for him this season, as he figures to face frequent double teams.
Adams and Ward said officials could probably call holding on every play. Lawing always emphasized that if a defensive end leads with his shoulder to create separation with an offensive tackle, the end is asking to get held — with no flag. If an end wants to draw a holding call, he must create separation with his hands rather than by plowing into a tackle with his shoulder. With Lawing’s help, Clowney made major progress in this area since he arrived at USC in 2011.
“Any time an offensive lineman gets his hand inside (the shoulder pad area), I don’t think there’s a referee or official in America that’s going to make a holding call,” Adams said. “That’s one thing we focus on a lot, is using our hands, keeping separation, getting guys off of us. So while we’re trying to get off, (the officials) can actually see the jersey is being pulled.”
Or, as Ward put it: “If a guy gets in on you and he gets in your chest, it ain’t a holding call and it shouldn’t (be). Hopefully, if (the officials) are watching Clowney and if an offensive lineman is holding him, then we’ll get some holding calls, especially if (opponents) are trying to block him one-on-one. He’ll get attention from the offense and he’ll definitely get attention from the officials.”
That’s the reality for an All-American who has 35½ tackles for loss, including 21 sacks, in his first two seasons. He understands he must deal with double-team blocks, just as his linemates and position coach grasp the importance of exploiting double teams. It is especially critical for the other end, Chaz Sutton, a senior who had seven tackles for loss and five sacks last season, and is now a full-time starter for the first time.
“That’ll be the whole key for us this year early,” Adams said. “Chaz and I have been talking about it. A lot of people are going to pay a lot of attention to Jadeveon. Chaz and the rest of the guys, they have to show up and they have to make plays. Chaz Sutton is a really good player himself. But obviously, it’s a lot easier when you have the focus completely on another guy and not paying attention to you.”