NFL: Panthers' Clausen deals with new system, Cam's popularity
By Pete Iacobelli
SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Carolina’s Jimmy Clausen isn’t the most popular quarterback at Panthers camp anymore.
A year ago, it was Clausen who heard the cheers and the packs of children screaming for his autograph after workouts. The Notre Dame passer carried the hopes of a franchise into his first preseason. If Clausen couldn’t start right away, it would only be a matter of time before the blond-haired Californian would take control.
These days, he hears things like “Sit down, Clausen,” from the crowd after a bad pass. His popularity has been eclipsed by the Panthers’ new franchise quarterback, Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton.
Still, Clausen’s focused on improving during his time at Wofford College, not on what figures to be a losing battle with Newton.
“He’s going to make plays. I’m going to make plays,” Clausen said. “I’m going to make mistakes. He’s going to make mistakes. It’s just a learning process for the both of us.”
Last season was a learning process for Clausen on how a rookie season shouldn’t go. He won only one of his 10 starts and completed just 52 percent of his throws. He had three touchdowns and nine interceptions as the Panthers finished 2-14 to earn the NFL’s top draft pick.
Clausen, who left college after his junior year, looked lost at times last fall in the pro game. It didn’t help Clausen’s confidence last December when star wide out Steve Smith stung the young passer with, “He ain’t at Notre Dame anymore, that’s for sure.”
Clausen ended with a passer rating of 58.4, 31st among NFL quarterbacks.
Things got worse for Clausen’s future as Panthers’ starter when the Panthers did the expected on draft day and picked college football’s most dynamic player in Newton. The former Auburn quarterback has been the No. 1 fan focus at camp. Any run brings cheers and his throws — sometimes 50 yards in the air — draw gasps from those watching practice.
First-year Carolina coach Ron Rivera thinks Clausen has maintained a steady approach the first week of camp, showing a strong, accurate arm in drills. “Don’t discount some of the things Jimmy has done,” the coach said. “Jimmy has taken great strides.”
Clausen became a starter with the Fighting Irish a game into his freshman year and steadily progressed under the guidance of coach Charlie Weis. Clausen threw for 3,722 yards and 28 touchdowns as a junior, completing nearly 70 percent of his passes before turning pro.
Clausen was considered a first-round talent but slid to the second round where the Panthers’ took him 48th overall. The Panthers offense fit him Clausen’s skills, then coach John Fox said. It seemed a perfect match.
Then came last season’s struggles and the Panthers drafting Newton.
Clausen remembers being on the golf course when he learned about his main competition. The two have become friendly at camp, Clausen says, Newton keeping the quarterback room light with his jokes and smiles. “Me and Cam compete but we’re still teammates,” Clausen said. “We’re starting to get a bond and a friendship going.”
Newton said he’s never presumed he’ll start any games this season and welcomes what he can learn from Clausen and the other Carolina quarterbacks. “I know me and Jimmy’s battling for the starting spot and I’m learning a lot of things from Jimmy,” Newton said. “He’s helping me out a lot through this process.”
Clausen knew after the last season — the Panthers finished dead last in NFL offense — he’d have lots of competition in camp. Also on the roster are second-year quarterback Tony Pike and veteran Derek Anderson, whose best season came in 2007 with the Browns who featured current Carolina offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski in the same role.
Clausen made sure he was ready. He spent the NFL lockout working out on the West Coast. Panthers receiver David Gettis, also from California, took part and said Clausen handled himself like a professional after Netwon joined the club.
“That’s all you can do,” Gettis said. “You can’t worry about what the media is saying about you. You can’t worry about what the coaches are saying about you. You just have to work on your craft and make sure you’re the best player you can possibly be.”
Clausen’s tried to do that, pushing out the critics and those who can’t wait to see Newton on the field. He’ll just keep working and see what happens.
“You’ve just got to accept it,” he said. “It’s only going to make yourself better if it doesn’t kill you.”
The Associated Press