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Waking the Echoes: Jimmy Clausen

| Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The bright spotlights have shined down on Jimmy Clausen for years.

From the undefeated days at Oaks Christian High School in California to three seasons as the starting quarterback at Notre Dame to a starting role as a rookie with the Carolina Panthers, Clausen was as recognizable a young quarterback as any from 2005 to 2010.

The blonde-haired, California native graced the glossy pages of Sports Illustrated as a high-school junior, dubbed “The Kid With the Golden Arm” and considered a possible “once-in-a-generation talent.”

Jimmy Clausen

But now, more than 1,300 days removed from his last regular-season appearance, the former Irish quarterback finds himself out of the spotlight, positioned on the Chicago Bears sideline, backing up quarterback Jay Cutler. Though he’s away from the national gleam, Clausen knows his helmet is within reach.

“You can say it’s easier [not being the center of attention], but obviously I want to be a starter in this league,” Clausen said recently by phone after stepping off the practice field.

In early June, the Bears signed Clausen, a former second-round pick who started 10 games for the Panthers in 2010 but did not play over the next three seasons. Clausen’s four-year rookie contract expired at the end of the 2013 season, and the Bears scooped him up over the summer, providing the 26-year old a second chance.

“It means a lot,” Clausen said of his opportunity. “For [Chicago head] coach [Marc] Trestman and [Chicago general manager] Phil Emery to give me an opportunity here, just to come in and compete, that’s all I can ask for. I just had to go out each and every day and make the most of it and whatever happens in the end, happens.”

What Clausen wants to happen, of course, is to get another crack as a starting quarterback. He beat out Jordan Palmer for the backup job in Chicago, but Cutler is entrenched with the Bears and just began his sixth consecutive season atop the depth chart. Still, Clausen said he prepares each day as if he’s the starter.

“I’ve had to go out each and every day and act like I am the starter because you’re one play away,” he said. “It’s actually tough in some circumstances because you don’t get to have all the reps the starter does get, so you have to be in it mentally each and every day and just take mental reps and take some extra throws after practice to get the reps in.”

Clausen’s current situation now is quite different to what he experienced in his initial stops in South Bend and Charlotte, N.C., respectively. The No. 2 overall player in the nation in the class of 2007, per 247Sports’ Composite Rankings, Clausen enrolled early at Notre Dame, joining the Irish for the spring 2007 semester. After dealing with offseason elbow surgery, he started the second game of the season against Penn State, marking the earliest in a season an Irish freshman quarterback had started since 1972 (when freshmen regained their eligibility). Clausen notched nine starts in 2007, but the Irish finished just 3-9.

“[I] went through a lot of growing pains and struggles [as a freshman],” Clausen said. “We weren’t very good. My freshman year there, we were just grinding away and everyone said if it doesn’t kill you it only makes you better.

“The next year it got better.”

Clausen started all 13 games in 2008 and threw for 3,172 yards and 25 touchdowns, as Notre Dame finished 7-6. The Irish had “a heckuva team” in 2009, Clausen said, but stumbled to a 6-6 mark.

“We just couldn’t pull off a few of those wins,” he added.

After forgoing his senior season in South Bend, the Panthers nabbed Clausen with the 48th overall selection in the 2010 NFL Draft. Clausen earned his first career start in Week Three against Tampa Bay and took the first snap in nine of the remaining games.

“My rookie year felt the exact same as my freshman year at Notre Dame, being out there, getting thrown out there, myself not being great and being a little banged up, it was just tough,” Clausen said.

After not playing in 2011 and 2012 as Cam Newton grabbed hold of the starting job in Carolina, Clausen tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder in the 2013 preseason finale.

“I was just rehabbing and just waiting to get another opportunity,” Clausen said of this past offseason. “It was kind of frustrating not getting more calls early on. But patience is a virtue.”

In filling some of the passing time, Clausen returned to Notre Dame in November and spent roughly a month finishing his degree.

“It was kinda freezing when I was out there,” Clausen said with a laugh. “But I promised my parents that I would go back there. It meant a lot to me, and I know it meant a lot to the Notre Dame people.”

Six months later, the Bears signed Clausen. Now, he takes his second chance in stride, returning to a backup role as a veteran.

“I think going through what I went through at Notre Dame helped me throughout my NFL career so far,” Clausen said.

“Just growing through age, growing through good times, bad times,” Clausen said, when asked how he’s grown as a person. “You’re gonna grow up coming into Notre Dame being an 18-, 19-year old kid, trying to go in there and compete as a true freshman.

“Coming out of high school, I didn’t lose a game, so it was tough on me going through that first year as a freshman losing games like we did.

“But just to overcome adversity. That freshman year at Notre Dame really helped me my rookie year and the past four years that I’ve been in the league.”

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About Mike Monaco

Senior Sports Writer Mike Monaco is a senior majoring in Film, Television and Theatre with a minor in Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy as well as Business Economics. The O’Neill Hall native hails from the Boston area and is an aspiring play-by-play broadcaster.

Contact Mike