Panthers' Clausen supports Newton, team

Panthers' Clausen supports Newton, team

jperson@charlotteobserver.comOctober 28, 2011 

— As he sat in his locker stall answering questions from reporters Thursday, Jimmy Clausen looked up to see Cam Newton standing above him with a question of his own.

Newton, pretending to use his cell phone as a recording device, asked Clausen about the nickname his teammates had given him.

Clausen revealed it was "Slice," and he and Newton shared a laugh.

If Clausen resents the man who took his position, he didn't show it Thursday.

Clausen was the Panthers' starting quarterback for 10 games during the dysfunctional 2010 season, when John Fox was a lame duck and the Panthers finished 2-14 with the NFL's worst offense. Clausen served as the poster child for the Panthers' problems: The former Notre Dame star went 1-9 as a starter and ended the season with the league's lowest quarterback rating.

A year later - with Newton breaking rookie quarterback records seemingly every week and firmly entrenched as the starter - Clausen shares scout-team duties with No. 2 quarterback Derek Anderson and has been inactive for all seven of the Panthers' games.

Clausen does not begrudge Newton his success. And though he is now in street clothes on game days, Clausen still participates in the quarterback meetings and is always among the first to greet Newton when he comes to the sideline.

Still, it is not where Clausen wants to be.

"Yeah, it's hard. I want to play," Clausen said Thursday. "But at the same time it's not my time right now. And what I'm here to do is to watch and learn from D.A. and the things Cam's doing, and help the team."

The Panthers' game Sunday against Minnesota will feature a pair of first-round rookie quarterbacks in Newton and Christian Ponder. Already, there are four rookie quarterbacks starting around the league.

That was Clausen last season, tossed into the fire by Fox in Week 3 after Matt Moore kept giving the ball to the other team. Clausen, the Panthers' second-round pick in 2010, often looked overwhelmed behind an injury-riddled offensive line.

He was sacked 33 times while throwing for 1,558 yards - a total Newton surpassed in five games.

"I watched him last year when he was at Auburn. I watched him when he was in high school," Clausen said of Newton. "We actually came out together, coming out of high school. He's a heck of a talent and he's doing really well."

After he was hired in January to replace Fox, Ron Rivera said the Panthers needed to find a franchise quarterback. The implication was there was not one on the roster.

But Rivera also has said Clausen shouldered too much blame for the losses last season. Center Ryan Kalil said Clausen was put in a tough spot after Moore's struggles and eventual season-ending shoulder injury.

"It was a tough year last year for (Clausen) and for all of us. He was thrown into a rough situation," Kalil said. "It was definitely a rebuilding year last year as far as a holding pattern for the moves that we made this year. Nobody really said it, but everybody kind of knew it. That was a tough deal. But I think him and the rest of us stayed pretty optimistic."

Rivera said Clausen has handled his situation with aplomb.

"Jimmy's a competitor," Rivera said. "At the same time he understands the circumstances and situation. He knows his time will come. And I think it will, too. This may be a good chance for him to have a reset - take a step back, look at things, re-evaluate and then develop himself."

Clausen's future almost certainly will be elsewhere, although he said he has not thought about it.

"I'm here for a reason and everyone on the team has a role," he said. "And I'm just trying to do my role as best I can. Helping the defense on scout team, and helping Cam, watching film, different things like that."

The quarterbacks were watching film recently when Clausen saw a clip from last season when he was under center behind Kalil. He couldn't help but smile.

"It was pretty funny to look back and see that," he said.

When he talks to former coaches and teammates, they tell him to make the most of this difficult time.

"It's easy to go out each and every day and just hang your head and go through practice. But go out there and work on your game, work on your craft," said Clausen, repeating the advice. "Just learn as much as you can during this time because you never know what's going to happen. You could get thrown in there and you're going to have to perform."

Clausen knows that as well as anyone.

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