Johnny Manziel is the media megastar of all media megastars, the guy who's taken over LeBron James' kingdom in Cleveland to the extent that if both Manziel and LeBron show up at a club, Johnny Football is the bigger story. Blake Bortles is the charging curiosity, the quarterback taken the highest in the draft, the guy who is threatening to be the one who got away.
But neither one takes over games the way Destructor does.
That's what Jadeveon Clowney is for the Houston Texans. The Damn Destructor. And pity the team that's not prepared. A mere two games into the preseason, with only a few handful of snaps played by No. 90, there's already no doubt about the impact Clowney will have on Bill O'Brien's Texans.
Clowney blows up plays and lights up sidelines. He delivers the type of hits that turn professional football players back into giggling, giddy high schoolers. He changes momentum with crunches. Even in a game as violent as football, Clowney's skill set in delivering mayhem is unique. With HBO's Hard Knocks crew in NRG Stadium to film the Atlanta Falcons Saturday night, Clowney keeps charging into the frame, laying down the real hard knocks.
And you can bet it's a life that Falcons tailback Antone Smith and Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Ryan don't want to live.
Clowney delivers the type of hits that turn professional football players back into giggling, giddy high schoolers.
For there's Clowney blowing up Smith and Ryan on back-to-back plays in the first quarter, paving the way to a cleansing 32-7 preseason victory in pain. It's no coincidence that the Falcons seemingly want no part of the Texans after Clowney hits them a few times.
Why put up with this freak in the preseason?
"He's a big, athletic guy," Ryan says. "Very quick. And he had two plays that threw us off."
Matty Ice doesn't want any of this. The Falcons don't need this. Not in August. But the Texans do. This is a franchise that hadn't won any type of game in 11 months. The NFL preseason is the most meaningless, overblown month in all of sports. But after 32-0 in the desert last Saturday night, and all those losses last season, this preseason W actually matters to the Texans. As excitable second-year safety D.J. Swearinger notes, "The last time I won was in Madden."
That's somewhat fitting considering many of Clowney's hits are straight out of a video game.
The rightful No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft now has three absolute highlight ones in two preseason games. He's serving real notice to the rest of the league in the shadows of the overwhelming Johnny Manziel circus.
"I think any time 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), or (D.J.) Swearinger or K-Lew (Kendrick Lewis) — whoever it is defensively, that helps on the sideline," O'Brien says.
"I can remember in other places I've been, when a guy makes a big hit, it really lights up your sideline. So it's great for the defense, great for our team and I thought it helped our whole sideline."
That's almost a direct compliment from O'Brien on Clowney. Almost. You know the rookie who's been told to speak softly as he delivers those big hits is coming hard if even O'Brien is almost loosening up on him.
Jadeveon Clowney's Monster Mashes
One week after getting dominated, the Texans dominate large stretches of a game. Ryan Fitzpatrick looks like a real quarterback, showing near improvisational magic with his work on the run. O'Brien's special teams provide Fitzpatrick with good starting field position early, then go brilliantly bonkers late, blocking and returning a punt for a touchdown in the fourth quarter (thanks to the sublime work of undrafted rookie Anthony Denham). There's even an interception return for a touchdown — even if it's by a kid playing in the fourth quarter who is a long shot to make the Texans' roster (Andre Hal).
After 32-0 in the desert last Saturday, and all those losses last season, this preseason W actually matters. As excitable safety D.J. Swearinger notes, "The last time I won was in Madden."
But the brightest shining light of all is Clowney.
"He's special," wide receiver DeVier Posey says. "He's special man. He's going to be a special player."
That's three specials in 12 words and not a one of them seems superfluous.
Just ask veteran Falcons left tackle Sam Baker who's completely blown over by Clowney on the Ryan sack. The hulking Baker looks like a crumpled cartoon left in No. 90's wake. Or ask the shocked Falcons line about the crushing tailback tackle behind the line — delivered after Clowney almost falls over on the play's snap, before catching himself in an impromptu three-point stance. There's recovering — and there's destruction.
"I don't know man, I just tried to get back there," Clowney says of his blazing bursts into the Falcons backfield.
He got back there. And O'Brien got points for steadiness.
O'Brien doesn't panic in the wake of 32-0. He doesn't push the Texans stars who'd be well served to sit out the entire tedious preseason into action, holding out Arian Foster, Andre Johnson and Brian Cushing again. And adding J.J. Watt,, who got all the preseason he needs in two snaps in Arizona, and many more to the sideline crew for good measure as well.
The new coach has Clowney — and that's enough difference maker on this August night. Johnny Manziel cannot dominate games like this. Blake Bortles has no chance of making this big of an impact.
The true No. 1 is still standing out, providing a preview of the Hard Knock life awaiting the NFL's biggest offensive stars.