Clausen counting on past to help future

BOB WIENEKE
South Bend Tribune

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Gone is the hype that Jimmy Clausen, not that long ago, carried with him as the Carolina Panthers' one-time quarterback of the future.

crosshairs. Three seasons, as a matter of fact, have played out since Clausen last threw a pass in an NFL game.

There have been tough lessons for the former Notre Dame star, but Clausen is using what happened in Carolina -- getting beat up and getting beat out -- as just that.

Lessons.

"A lot of things have changed in my life, for the good," Clausen said Friday. "You learn from the bad and keep moving on with the good."

For Clausen, now 26 and entering his fifth season in the NFL, the good is hopefully with the Chicago Bears, with whom he signed last month. The one-time top high school player in the country is hoping to win a battle as the No. 2 quarterback behind incumbent Jay Cutler.

Clausen, a second-round pick of the Panthers in the 2010 NFL Draft, played extensively his rookie season, starting 10 games. The numbers, however, were not good, as he threw three touchdowns against nine interceptions and was sacked 33 times. The Panthers were bad enough that they earned the top pick in the following year's draft, which they used to take Auburn's Cam Newton.

Clausen did not play in 2011 or 2012, and ended up on injured reserve last season after undergoing shoulder surgery. The unrestricted free agent signed a one-year deal with the Bears, where he's in a battle with Jordan Palmer to serve as Cutler's backup.

Yes, he's happy to be in Chicago. And yes, it's an adjustment working for a backup job.

"It's tough. You want to compete and you always want to be playing, but at the same time you've got to be a team player," Clausen said Friday after the Bears completed their first day of training camp at Olivet Nazarene University, and before he was beckoned to the sidelines by autograph-seekers. "Obviously Jay is one of the best in the league. It's been great since I signed here because he's been helpful to me and all the other guys.

"Just to sit behind a guy like Jay and learn from him, just the way he practices, the way he meets, the way he takes notes, the way he talks to the players on the field, while we're watching tape. It's just a different perspective than what I've had the past four years. Just watching him has helped me a lot because obviously he's doing something right as good as he is."

If Clausen does win the backup job, and if he does get on the field, there are reasons to believe he can thrive, reasons like wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, tight end Martellus Bennett and running back Matt Forte.

"Obviously there's a ton of weapons around here and it's fun throwing the ball to those guys," Clausen said.

Clausen, who will wear No. 8 for the Bears (his No. 7 is retired to honor Bears founder George Halas) is one of four quarterbacks on the Bears' camp roster, with rookie David Fales a longshot to beat out either Clausen or Palmer. Former Northern Illinois standout Jordan Lynch is also now a Bear, but he's listed as a running back, and the closest he came to the quarterbacks Friday was when he was taking handoffs.

Palmer and Clausen largely split the backup snaps at Friday's two-hour practice, with Clausen mixing in a healthy amount of good with a smattering of bad. There was a ball that slipped out of his hands and cannonballed about 10 yards, and there was a pick-6 courtesy of top pick Kyle Fuller that looked eerily similar to an interception he threw in 2008 against North Carolina. But Clausen looked comfortable running the offense when given the chance. In fact, Bears coach Marc Trestman at one time could be heard telling Clausen, "don't apologize for four yards" after a short completion.

Trestman could be the key in Clausen resurrecting his career. When Clausen was coming out of Notre Dame, it was Trestman, who was then coaching in Canada, who came and worked with Clausen for about a week and a half prior to the NFL Combine. And it was Trestman who worked out Clausen at his ND pro day.

"They're that type of coaches and the kind of staff you want to be around," Clausen said about Trestman and the Bears staff.

Also helping is Clausen's experience. True, he hasn't played since 2010, but Palmer, a sixth-year pro who played at Texas-El Paso, has played in just four career games, and Fales last year was at San Jose State.

And the layoff? Former Michigan State and Bears quarterback Jim Miller, who now works for SiriusXM Radio and Comcast SportsNet in Chicago, believes the time watching can be turned into an advantage.

"Sometimes it's good to just let you marinate a little bit," said Miller, who watched Friday's practice from the sideline. "For some guys, it's a change of scenery, and maybe this will be a good change for him."

If Clausen does win the backup job, the Bears would no doubt love to have a guy capable of what Josh McCown, last year's backup, was able to do. With Cutler injured, McCown, a journeyman, produced a 13-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and earned a lucrative deal with Tampa Bay.

Clausen, too, believes what he learned sitting can provide future results. In fact, he pointed to his freshman year at Notre Dame, when a couple of weeks off late in a dismal 3-9 season helped him see the big picture.

"Obviously, the first year was rough, but there's a lot of Carolina guys on the team and we talked a few days ago just about how that season shaped us to be the players we are today; to be the men we are today," Clausen said. "Just to go through that adversity, like what happened at Notre Dame my freshman year, it was just tough, but that makes you a stronger person, a stronger player, and a better player."

Clausen still keeps tabs on his former team, likes what coach Brian Kelly is doing, and noticed the new FieldTurf at ND Stadium.

"That looks pretty cool," he said.

Clausen is engaged to former USC volleyball player Jess Gysin, and former receiving targets Michael Floyd, Golden Tate and Kyle Rudolph will all be members of his wedding party.

Long before the February wedding rolls around, though, there's a job to be won, with the past forging his future.

"I've got to take what I learned from Carolina, all the goods, bads, ups, and downs," he said, "and bring it here and show it all on the field."

Carolina Panthers' Jimmy Clausen (7) looks to pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second half of an NFL preseason football game in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013. (AP Photo/BOB LEVERONE)