April 15, 2024

New Panthers pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney hopes to build on his “Kobe Bryant” year

Panthers pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney tied a career high in sacks during his tenth NFL season, in Baltimore. He hopes to build on that in his first year with Carolina.

During his introductory press conference, the first overall pick in the 2014 draft called 2023 his “Kobe Bryant” year.

That was very important, really for myself because I already knew I could play the game and make plays,’’ Clowney said, via David Newton of ESPN.com. “I tell people all the time if I play in 16, 17 games, it’s going to look like a Pro Bowl season. That’s all I got to do, is just be out there playing. . . . I know I can make the plays no matter what team I’m on. I’ve just got to be available and take care of myself. The older I get the more I figure out how to stay healthier.”

Clowney said he changed to No. 24 as a nod to when Bryant switched to that number.

“That was my Kobe Bryant year, the return of the killer,’’ Clowney said. “I said Kobe [year] because when I was in Cleveland a lot of stuff happened my last year there when I didn’t have my best season. . . . They put out that article about me saying all this about what was going on.’’

The article was based on a claim from Clowney that the Browns favored Myles Garrett, and that the Browns engineered the defense to maximize Garrett’s chances to flourish.

This year, Clowney will shed No. 24 and return to No. 7, his number from high school and college. He said No. 24 has served its purpose.

“I said I just need one opportunity to show these people I still can do this at a high level and I’m not the guy they make me out to be,’’ Clowney said. “That’s all I wanted to do that whole offseason, prove that to people.

Clowney has proven himself many times over. Despite the fact that he’s never had double-digit sacks, he is a disruptive force that makes it easier for other players to get to the player with the ball. He’s a master of what Chris Simms calls “eff up the play” (I was going to use the word but, hey, it’s Easter). As Clowney said, if he’s healthy he can still get it done.

That’s the biggest if. He played 17 games (with 15 starts) in 2023. It was the first time he appeared in every regular-season game since 2017.

It’s frankly amazing that he played in every game last year. He has microfracture surgery after his rookie year. That’s a procedure aimed at rectifying a bone-on-bone condition.

Nine seasons later, he’s still going. And he had one of his best years yet in Baltimore.