KRISTIE RIEKEN, AP Sports Writer
HOUSTON (AP) — Jadeveon Clowney was so excited on Monday in his first practice with the Houston Texans since microfracture knee surgery that he asked coach Bill O’Brien if he could take a run at the quarterbacks.
“I was like: ‘Coach, let me get some pass rush today,'” Clowney said. “He was like: ‘No, it’s your first day out here, we’re going to take it slow.'”
The outside linebacker, who made a name for himself by chasing quarterbacks at South Carolina, participated in walk-throughs and individual drills, but did not do any contact work. The Texans aren’t sure when he’ll play in a game.
Clowney was the top overall pick in last year’s draft. He played just four games last season because of various injuries before having season-ending surgery in December.
Because of his abbreviated season he doesn’t really feel as if it’s his second year in the NFL.
“I do feel like kind of a rookie because I didn’t get to play more than what, four games,” he said. “So it’s kind of like a rookie season all over again for me.”
O’Brien was encouraged by Clowney’s work on Monday and touched on the plan for him moving forward.
“We’re going to ease him back into this thing and ramp him up to be able to play in games,” O’Brien said.
Clowney had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee after injuring it in the season opener in 2014.
He played three games after that, but never felt right and eventually had the second, more drastic surgery to repair his knee. He wouldn’t say how close he is to being back to his old self, but did say that he feels better now than he did after his first surgery.
The 22-year-old described the months of rehabilitation that led to Monday’s return to practice. He said it’s a relief to be close to playing again and admitted there were times when things got hard and family and friends had to encourage him to keep going.
“(It was) more than I’ve worked in my whole life probably but it was worth it,” he said. “Just to be back out here. It was all worth it, man.”
He enjoyed being back on the field with his teammates even though many of them ribbed him after being out for so long, calling him the “new kid on the team.”
After his work was done for the day he remained behind on the field where the team practiced. He was holding his helmet and watching intently.
But he also had some fun, laughing and joking with teammates and at one point doing a spirited rendition of both the “Whip” and “Nae Nae” dances as Silento’s song “Watch Me” blared from speakers near the field.
He can’t wait until O’Brien removes his practice restrictions and he can get back to doing what he does best.
“It’s going to be great to be out there, rushing the passer and just putting my hands on other guys,” said Clowney, who had 24 sacks in three college seasons. “I’ve been hitting these dummies for so long and nobody hits back.”
Linebacker Brian Cushing, who has come back from two serious knee injuries in recent years, said that he talked often with Clowney during his recovery. He’s confident that he’ll be able to help the Texans this season.
“He is very passionate, motivated, and focused toward getting back here and playing,” Cushing said. “The kid loves football and did a great job in the offseason getting back.”