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Jadeveon Clowney adds known commodity to unit in flux

Jadeveon Clowney

CHARLOTTE -- On one hand, the Panthers mandatory minicamp practice on Tuesday saw the best turnout of pass rushers during the entire offseason. On the other hand, that still wasn't a lot, all things considered.

Jadeveon Clowney was back in Charlotte, after missing some of the recent voluntary work. K'Lavon Chaisson was on hand as well, his first time in a Panthers uniform since being signed in March.

But Eku Leota is on a scooter for the next three to four weeks (he should be back by training camp) with a calf strain. D.J. Wonnum is still recovering from a torn quadricep and on Tuesday, DJ Johnson was carted off with what Dave Canales called a calf injury that would shut Johnson down for the remainder of minicamp.

Clowney adds some stability though, as the veteran is coming off one of his best seasons and is leading a new group.

"We are coming from all over," Clowney said Tuesday. "Different team and individuals, but I think when you put us together, we got the guys that can stop the run and rush the passer and we got some matchups guys who can match up on the inside with guards and everything.

"We just got to figure out where the pieces fit and who is going to be out on the field at the same time and who is doing it at the same time. It's good to know the guys besides you and who you're rushing with, make sure y'all are on the same page.

As such, through this short camp, the pass rush unit is finding ways to not only learn the system, but develop a chemistry with each other, even if it's not in the traditional way on the field.

While Wonnum's injury currently has him sidelined, there are tricks of the trade that don't require full speed or getting off the block. That's the area of the game Clowney was looking to share with Wonnum on Tuesday, taking time between drills to illustrate some moves for his teammate to emulate.

"Pass rush is technique, like hands, you can work that a lot without actually doing it and going through the running," Clowney explained. "So, I think hands is the biggest key and one of the biggest key getting people hands off you and keeping them off, where to put your hands on guys.

"And I was just telling him some of the stuff I did that worked previous years and what I look for when I'm rushing."

Clowney has posted nine-plus sacks four times in his career. The Panthers will need Wonnum back as the season begins to bookend the trenches, but Clowney's presence on the line can change the defense. Luckily for him and the Panthers, it's a defense that has proven profitable for the Rock Hill native in the past.

"I like it because I played well in that scheme when I was in Houston for four or five years," Clowney said. "So, I'm just looking forward to see what (Evero's) got when it comes down to us matching up against certain teams and scheming teams."

The system also allows the pass rusher to be a little more free, following the ball at all times. It means if Clowney wants to put his nose into the run game, he can. And he does.

"That's a mindset. I'm not going to let nobody run the ball at me or knock me off the ball and I refused to do that throughout my career," Clowney promised. "A pass rush might be a technique, a learned skill set, but the run game is all a mindset and I got a mindset that say I ain't going to let that happen and just refuse to let a man just put his hands on me in a type of way and do what they want to do."

While Clowney might already be familiar with the scheme and playbook, and those that are returning under Ejiro Evero will have experience as well, for those that are new faces – and especially those that are new and currently injured – the key for the staff is teaching through the setbacks.

"This is a really good system that Ejero has and has his coaching staff teaching our guys," Canales said of Evero's scheme. "And so, the way that we see it is if we teach good football, if our X's and O's are right, when we add these premier players into the mix, it just really accentuates all of it and really makes it dangerous.

"To your point, those outside rushes are an important part of what we do. So, it was really good to see (Clowney) out there. In the meantime, its still, scheme is scheme, and especially in this phase right now in, OTA s and minicamp where it's not full go or not full padded. So, a lot of the pass rushes, they start but they can't finish at the quarterback."

Having someone like Clowney around to help teach, and provide dance breaks between drills (which he also does) pays dividends for a defense. Furthermore, Clowney has signed a one-year deal for the past four seasons. While he's quick to point out that a lack of performance in this league can cause a team to move on, effectively making every year a one-year deal, his two-year contract with the Panthers provides a sense of stability for both Clowney and his unit.

"I'm at home. That's a big relief," he said.

Now he has time to invest in those around him, whether it's on the field or in the meeting room.

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"I'm just trying to carry over here what I learned from other teams," he said. "I was younger, getting traded around. I was learning at this point. I'm trying to teach them guys what I learned. It's really about having a good, positive attitude every day, knowing you got to get to work.

"I tell them guys, man, it's two hours on the field, two hours in the meeting rooms. And that's the day. It should be no problem. When I was young, I had a problem too. But now it's like I'm going to learn it's just two hours a day. You're making a lot of money, just go out there two hours, just do your job and have fun doing it.

The current Carolina Panthers pass rush unit could look different by the time season starts, or for that matter, by the time training camp starts. The nature of injuries and recoveries will demand it. But this time is still valuable, building blocks to create a better unit in the fall.

"I think that's the biggest thing, is just knowing what them guys going to be," Clowney said. "You just got to know the guy besides you like your brother."

Check out photos from behind the scenes of the Panthers' 2024 production day.

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