Bonds Vrabel built with Clowney as rookie pay dividends for Titans years later

By John Glennon

A player who terrorized college football for the better part of three seasons en route to becoming the number one overall pick in 2014, Jadeveon Clowney never could have predicted what awaited him as a rookie.

The knee injury Clowney suffered in his very first game not only knocked him out of that contest, but sidelined him for nearly two months. Clowney played three more games that season, but things only got worse. It turned out the same freakish athletic specimen who’d amazed onlookers at the NFL Combine months earlier – running a 4.53-second 40-yard dash and registering a 37-inch vertical jump at 6-5, 266 pounds – would require a significant medical procedure just to continue playing football.

So Clowney underwent what’s known as microfracture surgery on the knee in December of 2014. It’s a process in which a surgeon pokes tiny fractures into a bone, hoping the blood and bone marrow seeping out will create a blood clot, which will in turn release cartilage-building cells. That’s pretty shocking stuff for a 21 year-old star athlete who – all of a sudden – had to be wondering whether or not his career might have ended just after it began.

It would take Clowney eight months to step back on a practice field, eight months of rehabilitation that tested him both physically and mentally.

One of the men who bolstered Clowney most during that dark and frightening time? It was none other than Titans coach Mike Vrabel, whose first year as the Houston Texans’ linebacker coach coincided with Clowney’s rookie season. The Titans’ newest addition reflected Thursday on what Vrabel’s support meant during the time.

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