Washington Football

South Carolina DE Clowney sets sights on Heisman

South Carolina DE Clowney sets sights on Heisman

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney's goal is to be sitting in New York next December as one of the finalists for the Heisman Trophy.

``I believe a defensive player can win the Heisman next year,'' Clowney said.

Actually, he believes he can win it.

``That's my next thing, New York,'' Clowney said Monday night after the Gamecock's practice. ``Next season, I am going to come out and try to work harder than I did this season and try to get there.''

The consensus All-American was the Hendricks Award winner this year as the best defensive end in college. He finished sixth in the Heisman voting; Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel won it. Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o was second and Clowney hopes he can become the first defensive player since Michigan's Charles Woodson in 1997 to win college football's most prestigious individual honor.

Clowney and the 11th-ranked Gamecocks (10-2) are preparing for No. 19 Michigan (8-4) in the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day.

Clowney, the Southeastern Conference's sacks leader with 13, took large strides forward this season and Gamecocks defensive line coach Brad Lawing expects that to continue. Clowney is a homebody, Lawing said, who'd rather be with family and friends in his hometown of Rock Hill than jetting around the country and smiling for cameras.

Clowney told Lawing at the College Football Awards show in Orlando, Fla., he was simply happy to be nominated and wasn't concerned about trophies.

``It will to you next year, I promise you,'' Lawing responded.

Clowney, 6-foot-6 and 256 pounds, was the country's top college prospect coming out of South Pointe High. Lawing remembers recruiting Clowney's high school teammates DeVonte Holloman and Stephon Gilmore - a first-round draft pick of the Buffalo Bills last spring - when prep coach Bobby Carroll said there was a 15-year-old Lawing had to watch.

Lawing rolled through hours of tape at the high school and was amazed at Clowney's skill. ``Tell him he's got a scholarship'' to South Carolina, Lawing told Carroll.

Clowney was wooed by the country's powerhouse programs and selected South Carolina over finalists Alabama and Clemson on Valentine's Day 2011.

Clowney, though, was not an instant success. His technique was ragged and desire to work hard was inconsistent. He and Lawing butted heads plenty during Clowney's freshman season.

``Sometimes when you're 18, 19 years old, you think you know everything,'' Lawing said.

Clowney's commitment to get better increased this past offseason. He spent more time watching film, refining technique and studying the game. The results were evident.

He consistently beat double teams, often leaping opposing players to cause havoc in the backfield. Clowney's best game this year came in the regular-season finale, a virtuoso showing of 4 1/2 sacks of Clemson star Tajh Boyd in the 27-17 victory over the rival Tigers.

The performance resonated with people outside of South Carolina, too.

``Everywhere we went people were talking about that game,'' Clowney said.

Clowney's got a combination of size, speed and maturity that would make him the No. 1 draft pick in April if he were eligible, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said last week. ``I don't think there would be any doubt about that,'' Kiper said.

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has long said Clowney would and should leave after his junior season as a likely first-round selection.

``He's gotten a lot of attention and he's handled it well, handled it very well,'' Spurrier said. ``We all know he's a three-year player, which is fine.''

Clowney's got goals to achieve, Lawing says. He's just eight sacks away from catching Eric Norwood for the school's all-time leading sacks mark of 29. Plus, Clowney would love bettering the single-season school marks of 13 sacks and 21 1/2 tackles for loss he's put up so far this year.

Spurrier, the 1966 Heisman winner, voted Clowney first on his ballot ahead of Manziel and Te'o. But Spurrier knows it would take a mega-season for Clowney to overcome the game's offensive stars who may vie for next year's Heisman.

Clowney smiles when asked if he's capable of pulling off that feat.

``It's a possibility,'' he said. ``I just keep playing my game, and I probably have a shot at winning next year.''

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With the way Alex Smith has looked so far, Ron Rivera 'can envision' him being in the quarterback mix

With the way Alex Smith has looked so far, Ron Rivera 'can envision' him being in the quarterback mix

Positive reports about Alex Smith's early training camp performance came out over the weekend, and on a Tuesday morning Zoom call with the media, Ron Rivera echoed those reviews.

"He's looked good, he really has," the head coach said. "I'll be honest, I was pleasantly surprised to see how far along he is. It's been exciting to watch his progression."

According to Rivera, Smith has been working off to the side with Washington Football Team trainers at the Ashburn facility and is mirroring what Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen are doing, too. Coordinator Scott Turner and QBs coach Ken Zampese are apparently involving Smith as much as they can, and Smith is looking "very fluid" so far.

"It's a tribute to who he is, it's a tribute to his trainers and his doctors who have helped him get where he is today," Rivera said.

That all, of course, is wildly encouraging. The fact that the 36-year-old is in a place where he can check off those boxes and do those activities is astounding. That can't be pointed out enough, either.

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Yet it's also fair to note just how different mimicking a starting signal caller and actually serving as the starting signal caller are. So, is there any real chance of Smith transitioning from that first phase to the second before the season? 

With what he's seen from the veteran so far, Rivera certainly believes there is.

"I can envision it," he said. "The big thing is if he can do the things that we need him to do, that he needs to do to help himself on the football field, he'll be part of the conversation most definitely. He did some really good things last week. He went through all four workout days, had no residual effect the next morning, which is always important because the next day usually tells.

"We'll see how he is this week and we'll go from there."

As Smith continues to rehab and try to make his way off PUP, the challenges are solely physical. Rivera is not worried at all about the veteran having to adjust to a new scheme or dealing with any other mental task; instead, the primary concern is ensuring that Smith can handle the contact that'll come if he makes it back into live action.

"I believe he already knows probably 75-percent of our playbook," Rivera said. "So for him, it's really just a matter of can he do the movements he needs to do? Can he protect himself when he's on the field?"

It feels like every time Smith is brought up, he's taken another step. The next one, however — going from the PUP list to the huddle — is particularly daunting.

But at this point, it's gotten pretty difficult to imagine anything being particularly daunting for Alex Smith. So don't be that floored if he makes it happen. Rivera clearly won't be. 

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Making a case for Red Tails as Washington Football Team's new name

Making a case for Red Tails as Washington Football Team's new name

It's been several weeks since the Washington Football Team announced it was retiring its former name and logo after more than 80 years. Ever since FedEx became the first known sponsor to formally ask Washington to change its name, fans have taken to social media to voice some of their favorites among potential replacements. I spoke with several marketing experts about a few of the fan-generated names, and will use their responses to make a case for some of the most popular suggestions. This is the case for Red Tails.

Case for: Washington Red Tails

“Red Tails” might’ve been the favorite among fans and others on social media before the “Red Wolves” hype train started gaining traction.

The origin of the name comes from the Tuskegee Airmen, the first Black pilots in the United States military. A group of Tuskegee Airmen known as the Red Tails -- because of the paint on the tails of their planes -- made up the 332nd Fighter Group during World War II. The Red Tails had one of the lowest loss records of all escort fighter groups.

CONCEPTS: TOP 5 NEW FAN-GENERATED WASHINGTON REDTAILS UNIFORM, HELMET DESIGNS

Brad Nierenberg, CEO of RedPeg Marketing, an Alexandria, Virginia-based marketing agency, thinks the history of the Red Tails provides an opportunity for Washington to attach itself to a powerful story, particularly in a time where conversations about social justice have been amplified.

“The Red Tails is an incredible opportunity for [Washington]," Nierenberg said. "I don’t know of it as a major team name. I think that it allows them at this time to take a leadership role in this time of changing of understanding of social justice. And I think that their recognition of the Red Tails could be a dramatic, great first step for them as a brand that I think is overcoming… there’s a great story behind it. They can run with that story that already exists.

"And at the time to actually capitalize on this, you can get a lot of wind beneath your wings on that one. I think there’s a lot of energy there with society. I think this town would wrap their arms around it. As a company and as a team, as an ownership group, recognizing this incredible story could be powerful forever. And it’s a fighter group, it’s a fighter, it’s an overcoming odds -- there’s a tremendous story there, and I think that with today’s society doing what it is, I think it could be an incredible time for them to take advantage of this groundswell of energy. And it’s not going backwards, it’s only going forward, so I think they could be in a very positive position.”

RELATED: WASHINGTON'S NEW NAME MAY BE MORE FOR FUTURE FANS THAN CURRENT ONES

Additionally, the Red Tails name allows the team to maintain its "warrior" ethos, according to Matt White, president of the marketing and ad agency WHITE64. White also likes that the name provides the opportunity for Washington to stick with its traditional burgundy and gold color scheme. 

"Graphically, the [old] logo on the helmet had the feathers. So you could certainly see how that could be very consistent," White said. "And certainly with the colors of the uniform."

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Most marketing experts have stressed the advantages of a team's name drawing a connection to the city it plays in. While Red Tails doesn't immediately evoke thoughts of Washington, Tim Derdenger, assoicate professor of marketing and strategy at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business, thinks there's a strong enough connection for it to work.

"It’s a strong choice for multiple reasons. One being that it relates to D.C. and the military," Derdenger said. "It keeps the team colors. If you keep 'red' in [the name], it has to be the right name. And I think Red Tails is one of those right names. It has a strong connection to the city, to the military, the colors, it still can pay homage to the team, the players of the past with keeping the 'red' name in there. It should be a strong candidate.”

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