Posted by Ryan Wilson
A year ago, Jimmy Clausen was supposed to be the Panthers' quarterback of the future. He ended up starting 10 games, winning once, and by the end of the season he had completed just 52 percent of his throws, including three touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Carolina's 2-14 record wasn't entirely Clausen's fault, but with the first-overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft and Cam Newton coming off a dominating college season, it wasn't a shock when the Panthers ended up taking him.
NFL quarterbacks, in general, struggle as rookies, with Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco being the notable exceptions. Two big differences between those players and Newton: they played for teams with good defenses, and perhaps more importantly, they were able to participate in minicamp and OTAs in the weeks and months leading up to their rookie seasons.
Newton has neither luxury, and it's why he probably won't be under center when the 2011 season begins.
The Charlotte Observer's Tom Sorensen goes so far as to write that Clausen will "become a legitimate NFL starting quarterback" before adding "But while Newton adjusts to the NFL, Clausen will get every opportunity to prove he can play. The Carolina Panthers almost certainly will entrust Clausen with their offense when they go to the road to play Arizona on opening weekend."
Sorensen admits that he's one of the few folks in town who believes in Clausen, which apparently include the Panthers front office since they used the No. 1 pick on a franchise quarterback a year after supposedly taking one 48th overall.
Whatever the long-term thinking, for now, starting Clausen makes the most sense. Not only because he has more experience, but also because the Panthers are in the early stages of rebuilding, and there's no need to subject Newton to what Clausen had to go through last year.
It may sound ruthless and unfair, and maybe it is. But it's also an opportunity for Clausen to show he's a legit NFL quarterback. As Sorensen notes, that job description includes more than just the physical abilities: "The quality Clausen lacked most [last season] was poise. Unwilling to risk an interception, he'd hang onto the ball. … He might fail again, but it won't be because he's meek. There will be coaches to impress and teammates to convince, and I think he will."
As for Newton, he's working out in Florida at the IMG campus and saying all the right things.
"I look up to the guys like Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger," he said. "They're great at what they do. I really love how Peyton Manning controls the whole game. He is the dictator out there on the field. He doesn't let the defense dictate him. Aaron Rodgers is a machine as far as his mechanics. ...Tom Brady is the ultimate leader. Drew Brees is a savvy guy in the pocket. Why not take a little something from everybody and apply it to your own?"
Nothing wrong with that. In fact, we're guessing Clausen made similar comments last summer. The true test, however, will come when Newton's thrown into the fire. It's perfectly reasonable to want to emulate Brady or Manning or Brees. It's something else entirely to be able to do that with 350-pound slabs of meat trying to drive you through the turf. For the immediate now, though, it sounds like that will remain Clausen's problem.
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