INDIANAPOLIS - Even out of season, Jadeveon Clowney has to play defense.
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Defending his work ethic, defending his desire to be great, defending his willingness to put 'we before me.'
It took but one question launched at the South Carolina defensive end Saturday to address his college head coach, Steve Spurrier, pooh-poohing Clowney's effort as it relates to his natural talent.
"I don't really have much to say about it. It's just an opinion," Clowney said at the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. "I believe I did work hard - pull out any practice tape from last year and you will see that. I'm always going to work hard and be a good teammate and give everything I got. I think I played hard and physical every game."
Then there was NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock wondering aloud if Clowney was more interested in making money than making football his passion after a relatively down year personally with the Gamecocks.
"I believe once I get to the NFL, that's going to be the 'up' of my career," Clowney said. "I just want to be the best, one of the greatest of all-time. The NFL is just the next level, a stepping stone on my way.
"Coming out of high school, I said I wanted to be one of the best in college. I think I proved that, and going to the NFL, I want to be one of the best in the NFL, go down in history as one of the best. So I've got another stepping stone on the way, take care of my business and hopefully accomplish that."
Asked specifically about his love of the game, Clowney said, "Aw man, I'm overjoyed. I've been playing this game since I was 5 years old. I play for my mom, she loves the game just as much as me. She tells me every time I step on the field to have fun. I'm going to continue to love this game."
Coming out of his record-setting 2012 season, an offseason topic a year ago was whether Clowney should consider sitting out 2013 in order to preserve his astronomical draft status.
"Nah, I told the guys in the locker room, they're talking that nonsense right now," Clowney said. "So they knew I was coming back, the coaches knew I was coming back. They were like, don't worry about it, the media is gonna talk.
As it is, he's a potential No. 1 overall pick, but not a consensus top selection. Clowney did admit if the rules has allowed him, he would have departed South Carolina after his sophomore year.
"Probably, yessir. I probably would have left. Just because I came off a great season," Clowney said. "If there was a chance, I probably would. But right now, it's over with, I have to take care of my business."
Clowney revealed late last year he had bone spurs in his foot, but swore they didn't affect his play, indicating he had them throughout his college career. He had just three sacks in 2013, down from 13 the previous year.
"A lot of teams played me different, played our team different," Clowney said. "On film, they would take 3-4 seconds to throw the ball; you watch them after our game, they're taking 2 seconds and not moving in the pocket, so they changed the gameplan against us because of our defensive line. So things didn't go as planned."
Still, accusations Clowney was locked in cruise control this year to avoid injury were unfounded in his mind.
"It wasn't about that. I was out there trying to help my team win games," Clowney said. "I wasn't worried about my draft stock or nothing. That'll take care of itself when I get done. So I was out there trying to make plays for my team no matter what it took."
As he pointed out a few times during his 15-minute media session, the Gamecocks accomplished unprecedented goals in Clowney's final year in Columbia.
"We won 11 games, won our bowl game, we finished No. 4 in the country for the first time in South Carolina history," Clowney said. "So (even though) I was criticized about the season; I wasn't worried about my stats, really. A lot of game(plan) changes went on when we played different teams; quick passes, 2-on-1, chips, opposite-side runs. But that happens going into the season, so I wasn't really worried about my stats, I wanted to win."