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Clausen hopes to rewrite ‘rough’ NFL story

Published: Wednesday, June 11, 2014 8:49 p.m. CDT
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(H. Rick Bamman – hbamman@shawmedia.com)
Bears quarterback prospects (from left) Jarrod Johnson, Jimmy Clausen and David Fales practicing together Wednesday at mini camp.

LAKE FOREST – As other players trotted off the turf at OTAs, Jimmy Clausen loitered, delaying the cameras and the questions he doesn't yet know how to answer.

He stood around midfield for a half hour watching the other quarterbacks throw and throw. Finally, Clausen grabbed his helmet and jogged over to where the cameras were waiting. When he arrived, he smiled.

“Step right up,” Clausen said.

It was as if he was talking to himself. He came to answer questions from others, but many of them turned out to be ones he's been repeating in his mind. How can Chicago be different than Carolina? How can he be different?

“It's definitely exciting,” he said. “Obviously, it's a big Notre Dame hub. I came to Chicago a lot while we were in college.”

Ah, college. That's when the NFL dream was just that, when the expectations could wait and his mind told him he could fill them all. He was coming off a glorified high-school career that plastered him into the pages of Sports Illustrated with the headline, “The Kid with the Golden Arm.” Suddenly, he was the starting quarterback at Notre Dame, which is like college football's equivalent to a throne. As a junior for the Irish, he threw 28 touchdowns to just four interceptions and then declared for the 2010 NFL Draft. He was selected by the Panthers in the middle of the second round, and by Week Three, he was a starting pro quarterback.

But there's something that happened between then and now that has him here, donning a Bears practice jersey for his second day and hoping the rest of his time isn't numbered. Clausen describes the period simply as “rough.” As a starter, he won one game and lost 10. He threw three touchdowns and tossed nine interceptions. His rookie season ended with a 31-10 loss to the Falcons that earned the 2-14 Panthers the No. 1 pick in the next draft, which they spent on current starting quarterback Cam Newton. Since Jan. 2, 2011, Clausen has yet to take another regular-season snap.

“Obviously, I had a rough rookie year,” Clausen said. “But coming back my second and third year just to learn and watch the game from the sidelines. I did that at Notre Dame as well and it just helped me grow and learn different things.”

In his time on the bench in 2011 and 2012, Clausen studied the field with fellow backup Derek Anderson. The Kid with the Golden Arm wasn't used to watching all game every game, but he said he found the discussion could expand his mind on coverages, pressures and parts of the field that seemed to fly by all too quickly during his rookie campaign.

It is mostly what he's doing now after signing a one-year deal with the Bears last Thursday. On Wednesday at the Walter Payton Center, Clausen went through the normal position drills with quarterbacks Jay Cutler, Jerrod Johnson and David Fales, with second-stringer Jordan Palmer watching team drills in sweatpants. He spent most of the day standing just behind the other three as they ran plays with the offense.

“I haven't spent a whole lot of time looking at (his) mechanics and all that stuff. It's none of my businesses,” said Palmer, who is often tabbed as the mentor of the backup quarterbacks. “But I've been a big fan of his for a long time.”

Clausen did get four snaps late in the team sequence. He handed off once to Ka'Deem Carey and completed two of three attempts, all short crossing routes.

He got little out of Wednesday beyond learning and feeling, but he's not selling either of those short. After being cut by the Panthers just before the season last year, Clausen had surgery to repair a torn right (throwing) labrum.

“My body is probably the best it's felt since going into my junior year of college,” he said.

His participation in team drills will obviously deepen the more he learns the playbook. The one advantage to having so many quarterbacks in one room is the increased discussion and learning that Clausen has received as the new guy on the team. He came in with familiarity with Marc Trestman after the Trestman worked him out for his Pro Day at Notre Dame. 

The instruction took another step Wednesday when former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar visited the team to watch film and practice and discuss the playbook.

“It's a West Coast system, and I think that fits me well,” Clausen said. “The coaching staff, like I talked about before, is great. Lots of experience. Jay's had a lot of experience. The quarterback room is a real smart room.”

Clausen also realizes the time he has to learn is shrinking. Unlike at Notre Dame, nobody is paying for him to learn anymore. Now is the time to start writing his NFL story again. Right now, when you search “Jimmy Clausen” on Google, the word most often paired with his name is “bust.” Second most common is “college stats.” Whereas his past has always been his crutch to lean on, Clausen is suddenly looking to leave it behind.

“I think that's how everything works in life,” Clausen said. “Right place at the right time. Everything is about timing and opportunity. When you get that opportunity, you've got to flourish.”  

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