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Football: Weis: Clausen could be ‘something special’

Jay Fitzpatrick | Wednesday, December 5, 2007

After a year closely evaluating freshman quarterback Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis said he has seen early signs of “it” – the indefinable quality that makes quarterbacks great.

“Let’s not rush this, but I think that there’s definitely evidence that this kid could be something special,” Weis said in a news conference Monday.

Clausen played in 10 games this season for the Irish, starting nine of them, and finished with 1,254 yards, seven touchdowns and six interceptions. But during Notre Dame’s final three games against Air Force, Duke and Stanford – both wins – Clausen started to improve in play. In those games, the freshman had six touchdowns, one interception and a 55.8 percent completion percentage. These performances came after Clausen rode the bench for Notre Dame’s two losses to USC on Oct. 20 and Navy on Nov. 3.

Weis said Clausen’s break in playing time midway through the season was just a part of the quarterback’s learning process and the two halves were not two separate entities.

“I look at it from when he got here last year right on through,” Weis said. “You know, how it progressed. All I can tell you is he would like things to have turned out a lot better, so would have I. But I definitely like the direction where this is going.”

After Clausen showed considerable on-the-field improvement in the end of the season, Weis said the most important thing for his freshman quarterback this offseason will be to hit the weights and gain some strength.

“I think that the kid has a very good mind. He has a very good arm. He has a pretty good understanding about the basis of our system that we’re going to be able to expand going into the spring,” Weis said. “But I think for him, more than mentally, I think that his biggest task is going to be to get himself fully healthy and physically ready to go and add some muscle.”

Because Notre Dame failed to qualify for a bowl game, it cannot practice again until the spring season begins, but its strength and conditioning program starts this week.

Weis said the only other aspect Clausen needs to work on is becoming a leader.

“I think that any time you’re a freshman, it’s tough to be a leader or show leadership abilities when you’re a freshman because it’s tough for a fifth-year senior in a huddle to look at a freshman and say, okay, I’m going to listen to everything,” he said. “It’s a little tough just naturally doing it that way, although he got a lot of help from guys like [center John Sullivan] and [tight end John] Carlson to make sure that that’s the way things went around here.”

But after this season, Weis feels that his quarterback has gone through the “rite of passage” needed to become the head of the offense.

One of the main things Weis was most impressed with this season was Clausen’s “nasty” attitude – something the coach hoped to instill in the Irish since he joined the program in the winter of 2005. Weis said this attitude helped Clausen adapt to being the starting quarterback as a freshman, despite that he didn’t’ have the team experience Notre Dame’s other quarterbacks had.

Overall, Weis is confident in the quarterback situation going into the spring, a difference from last spring and summer’s four-way quarterback free-for-all that saw three different quarterbacks take snaps in the first game of the fall season.