INDIANAPOLIS — South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw remembers his first impression of defensive end Jadeveon Clowney well.


“The first practice, we couldn’t block him,” Shaw said. “He was tagging me and I was falling down just when he was tagging me. So, I knew he was something special the very first time he walked on campus.”

The NFL knows Clowney is something special athletically. However, there are concerns about Clowney’s work ethic, something his coach, Steve Spurrier, labeled as “OK” and “pretty good” during an interview with The NFL Network last week.

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The real question is whether Houston, who owns the first pick in the draft, feels that Clowney is motivated enough to warrant being the first player to hug NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on the stage of New York’s Radio City Music Hall on May 8. There doesn’t seem to be a plausible scenario at this point in which Clowney would fall past the Jaguars with the third pick.

“I played with him for three years,” Shaw said. “I was with him behind closed doors. I can tell you that if a team passes up on him, they’ll wish they hadn’t later on.”

The 6-foot-5, 266-pound Clowney defended himself as well as he met with reporters on Saturday at the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium.

“I believe that once I get to the NFL, it’s going to be up on my career,” he said. “I want to be the best, one of the greatest of all time.”

Clowney was the most talked-about player entering college football last season. In 2012, he finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy balloting as a sophomore, recording 13 sacks and 23½ tackles for loss. Clowney capped that season with a vicious hit on Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl, in which he forced and recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter of South Carolina’s win. That play became known as “The Hit” and was one of the most replayed sports moments of the year.

The hype became difficult to handle heading into his junior season.

“A lot of people expected stuff that was impossible,” Clowney said.

Clowney said Saturday he probably would’ve left South Carolina to enter the NFL after his sophomore season if league rules allowed it. Instead, he was forced to return to school.

Clowney played, but wasn’t nearly as productive. He recorded just three sacks as a junior, but his presence helped South Carolina generate 24 as a team. Clowney finished his career with 24 sacks.

“Teams played me different, played our team different,” Clowney said. “When we watched them on film, they took three or four seconds to throw the ball. You watch them after our game and they took like two seconds, so they changed the game plan because of our defensive line. Things didn’t go as planned.”

Clowney pointed to his team’s overall success. The Gamecocks went 11-2 for the third consecutive season, won the Capital One Bowl and finished a program-best fourth in the country in both polls.

Jaguars coach Gus Bradley was asked about Clowney’s junior season on Friday. Clowney would appear to be the perfect Leo for Bradley’s scheme and would instantly upgrade a pass rush that was 30th in sacks per play last season.

“Sometimes, as a coaching staff, you may choose to attack a player,” Bradley said. “But we choose to look at the positives and say, ‘What traits do we like?’ Maybe his junior year didn’t completely go the way he wanted. Everybody is going to have struggles at times. It’s about how they adjust and get better from those times.”

Bradley was asked a general question about whether a player with a bad work ethic can be fixed, especially an athlete playing for a passionate coach like him. Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell mentioned defensive end Andre Branch as a player who Bradley helped correct effort issues in his first year as coach.

“I don’t think so,” Bradley said. “We’re trying to create an environment for everybody to be their best and it still comes back to the player. It needs to be important to the player. They need to have humility and they need to talk about their weaknesses. We can help them with the process, but it’s really egotistical to think we can fix anybody and that’s not our mind-set.”

If Clowney posts the 40-yard dash time he is predicting on Monday, teams will be even more likely to look past his forgettable junior campaign. He was already wowing scouts on Saturday after being measured with an 83-inch wingspan, larger than Houston’s J.J. Watt and the New York Giants’ Jason Pierre-Paul.

“I know I am going to run a low 4.5, if I don’t run a 4.4,” Clowney said. “I’m hoping 4.4.”

Clowney entered college as the top recruit in the country. He mentioned Seattle winning the Super Bowl with a dominant defense to illustrate why he should be the Texans choice over a quarterback.

“That’s one of my goals here, to go No. 1,” Clowney said. “I came out of high school as the No. 1 player so I want to come out of here as the No. 1 guy. … In the Super Bowl, defense won that game, shut them down. You had a great quarterback in Peyton Manning, hats off to him also, but defense wins the Super Bowl.”

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