When Laveranues Coles signed with the Cincinnati Bengals in free agency, David Clowney set his sights on the starting vacancy.
"Honestly, man, I said this was my chance to actually go out there and really take that No. 2 spot," he told newyorkjets.com today. "That was my main thought. With Laveranues going out, there's a No. 2 spot wide open, so this is my chance to go out there and really perform at my max and get that job."
The national draft pundits have all but forgotten about Clowney. Most believe the Green & White have to draft either a quarterback or a wide receiver in the first round of next month's draft. With that 17th overall selection, New York's AFC representative will likely have the option of choosing a WR from among Florida's Percy Harvin, North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks and even Maryland speedster Darrius Heyward-Bey. (Mizzou's Jeremy Maclin and Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree should both be Top 12 selections).
"I don't play attention to stuff like that. No matter who they bring in here, they are going to have to prove themselves just like I did when I was a rookie, just like Laveranues did, just like Jerricho [Cotchery] did, Brad [Smith], Wallace [Wright] and Chansi [Stuckey]," Clowney said. "We are all going to have to prove ourselves, so if they do go receiver in the first round, I'm just going to have to go out there and prove myself even more. Either way, I'm still competing for that starting job."
The 6'0", 188-pound Clowney, who's still just 23 years old, has just one career catch, but it was of the spectacular variety nonetheless. It came during the Jets' December home win over the Bills, a one-handed grab that covered 26 yards.
"I was able to get the first down. That was the main thing I was worried about," he said. "As long as I caught it and got the first down, my team was closer to the end zone."
Last summer Clowney reached the end zone a couple of times during preseason action. He opened a lot of eyes in August, averaging a ridiculous 27.8 yards on his eight receptions. Against the Browns in the preseason opener, he torched overmatched reserves to a tune of four receptions for 163 yards, including two long TDs from Brett Ratliff.
But Clowney injured a shoulder in the preseason game against Washington and was active for only two games in December, participating on special teams and a few offensive plays. He was running free in Seattle on one occasion but a banged-up Brett Favre couldn't get the ball to the vertical target.
"I've always had the confidence and I always say it's a thin line between confidence and cockiness," he said. "I always say I'm really confident in my ability. And being able to go out there late in the season and get a couple of tackles on special teams and a couple of good blocks and being able to get the catch I was able to get, it built up a lot of confidence to know that I can go out here and perform."
A fifth-round pick of the Green Bay Packers in 2007, Clowney is an absolute burner with 4.3 speed. In fact, if he had been running at the Indianapolis combine this year, he might have been the fastest among all the youngsters coming out.
"There was a lot of talk about me running a 4.35 at the combine with a bad hamstring. I never actually got a chance to go out there and show coaches what my time actually could have been at college," he said.
Clowney, who totaled 93 receptions at Virginia Tech, has been with the Jets since he was signed to the practice squad Oct. 25, 2007. He knows offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's system and also is excited about the addition of wide receivers coach Henry Ellard.
"I'm very happy about having Coach Ellard here, a receiver of his caliber who played for the Rams as long as he did and then being able to coach guys like Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt," Clowney said. "He is very experienced in the game and very technical. That's one thing I know I have to work on as a receiver is the technical things, being able to come in and out of breaks and being able to stop and go faster than others."
A Delray Beach, Fla., native, Clowney returned to his native state to train this off-season with teammate Abram Elam and longtime friend Brandon Flowers. Clowney's goal has been to add weight to his frame while maintaining his scintillating speed.
"If I can come in and weigh 200 pounds and still run a low 4.3, then I'll stay at 200 pounds and keep my 4.3 speed," he says. "If that weight is a little too heavy for me, I'll make sure I lose it."
By allowing Coles to test the free agency waters, the Jets were willing to lose one of the franchise's most productive receivers. The steady Jerricho Cotchery will return and perhaps Clowney will give the Jets a dangerous deep threat they haven't had in years.