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Football: Take three

Sam Werner | Thursday, August 27, 2009

While the quarterback position may not have the uncertainty of some other spots on the field – linebacker, for example – it still holds just as many questions as Jimmy Clausen prepares for his third season under center for the Irish.

Clausen finished last season with 3,172 passing yards, 25 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions, giving him career totals of 4,426 yards with 32 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. Optimists are quick to point out that those numbers are better than former Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford had in his first two years with the Bulldogs.

Clausen, though, still has work to do to match Stafford, who was picked number one overall in the NFL Draft in April. Irish quarterbacks coach Ron Powlus said that he didn’t have any specific goals in mind for Clausen in terms of statistics, but was pleased with his progress thus far.

“I think he’s where we hoped he’d be,” Powlus said. “I have full confidence in Jimmy’s knowledge in our offense.”

One thing Clausen has going for him heading into 2009 is offseason momentum. While there is no such thing as a ‘perfect game’ for a quarterback, Clausen came close against Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl last December, completing 22 of 26 passes for 401 yards and five touchdowns, with no interceptions. Not only did Clausen set records in virtually every Irish bowl game category for quarterbacks, but he also engineered the end of Notre Dame’s infamous bowl losing streak.

It may seem a long way removed from the quarterback who came in during the fourth quarter of a blowout loss to Georgia Tech in 2007. Even from the beginning of last season, when the offense sputtered against San Diego State, Clausen says he can feel a difference.

“The last couple of years, I didn’t quite know what I was doing from a mental standpoint,” he said in a press conference Tuesday. “You know, it’s night and day even from last year.”

Clausen said one aspect that has helped him improve his game from a mental aspect was working with Irish head coach Charlie Weis breaking down game film.

“I like going in the film room,” Clausen said. “Watching a lot of film and getting the game plan ready to go.”

Backing up Clausen will be sophomore Dayne Crist, who didn’t see any game action last year in order to preserve a potential fifth year. This year, Weis said Crist will be preparing the same way Clausen does, and will be ready to be the starter if Clausen goes down.

“You’ve got to prepare that way with Dayne,” Powlus said. “When you’re in the role Dayne’s in, you’re a snap away.”

Powlus added that while Dayne may not be as mentally mature as Clausen in terms of his knowledge of the offense, the coaching staff would make sure that he would be able to compete if put in a game situation.

“They’re at different developmental stages, so the meetings certainly go a little differently,” Powlus said. “But the goal is to get Dayne ready to go play.”

The third quarterback in line is fifth-year senior Evan Sharpley, who only decided over the summer to postpone his baseball career for one more season with the Irish. Sharpley’s main role the next two weeks will be to imitate Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick in practice in preparation for Notre Dame’s season opener against the Wolfpack Sept. 5. While Sharpley may not exactly match Kaepernick’s running ability, Powlus said Sharpley was doing well so far.

“[Sharpley]’s athletic, moves around a lot, he throws well. He is going to do a really good job helping prepare our defense.”

No matter who’s under center, though, Powlus said the goal remains the same.

“Jimmy’s goal – our goal – is to get [wins].”