With one week of summer school and a three-day post-draft minicamp now under his belt, rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen is starting to settle in to the Carolinas. He is becoming more familiar with the Charlotte area and more comfortable with the Panthers.
The California native is adjusting to life on the East Coast after spending the last three years in South Bend, Ind., where he attended the University of Notre Dame, before entering the NFL Draft following his junior season and being selected by Carolina in the second round.
"It's a new place for me to be in the Carolinas, but Charlotte is a great city, and I am enjoying myself," he said. "It's a lot different than South Bend. The weather is pretty much like what it's like in California with a little bit more humidity. But I like it."
Using a GPS and the advice of veteran players to navigate his way around town, Clausen is relying on diagrams with X's and O's and the help of his coaches and teammates to learn the Panthers' offense as quickly as he can.
"I am trying to learn as much as I can and adapt to the speed of the game," he said. "I am trying to come out each and every day, work as hard as I can, make myself better and do everything I can to make the team better."
One thing that has eased Clausen's transition to the NFL is having played in a pro-style offense in college. Carolina operates virtually the same offense as the one he ran at Notre Dame under Charlie Weis, who was the offensive coordinator for New England when current Panthers offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson was the tight ends coach for the Patriots.
"When Jimmy steps in the huddle, he doesn't have to learn a new language; he knows the language and understands a lot of the similar concepts. That's an advantage for him," said Panthers quarterbacks coach Rip Scherer. "Obviously, we do things different, but he doesn't have to learn a new language. For a young guy that's one of the biggest obstacles or the biggest part of the learning curve."
Two characteristics that defined Clausen's play during his three seasons with the Fighting Irish were pinpoint accuracy and arm strength. He left his mark in the Notre Dame record books, finishing first or second in 32 passing categories. Clausen ranks first in school history with a 62.6 completion percentage and tied first with a 2.43 interception percentage, including a 0.94 mark as a junior in 2009 when he had a streak of 160 pass attempts without an interception on his way to compiling a 68.0 completion percentage that stood fifth in the nation.
That same pinpoint accuracy and arm strength have been apparent at summer school as Clausen has been sharp and threading the needle with his passes. But he said one of the biggest challenges is getting used to the Panthers' receivers and developing a sense of timing and an anticipation of their moves. It is something that Clausen will try to perfect over the remainder of summer school and during training camp, so everything works like clockwork come game time.
"It is a whole different receiving group than I played with last year," he said. "So I have to get the timing down with each one of my receivers."
Along with building chemistry with his receivers, Clausen is working to improve several individual aspects of his game. He is spending extra time on the practice field with Scherer at the end of the workout every day. To practice passing accuracy and his release, Scherer has Clausen trying to throw the football into one of three bags placed in different locations in a net. And instead of just working on three- and five-step drops, Scherer is helping Clausen with his footwork by having him run over a series of bags on the ground while Scherer hits him with a blocking dummy to help them with ball security as he attempts to pass.
"I am trying to do everything I can to get better. The little things are things that pay off in the end," Clausen said. "I'm working on getting my feet a little quicker and getting my release a little quicker as well."
Clausen is driven to succeed by a strong competitiveness that he said was instilled in him by his parents when he was a child. The younger brother of two former Division I quarterbacks, Casey and Rick Clausen who both played at Tennessee, he had many intense battles with them growing up. Whether it is at sports or video games, especially his all-time favorite - Major League Baseball featuring Ken Griffey, Jr. - he always wants to win.
"I am a competitor, whether it is on the football field, in the classroom, playing video games or whatever it is. I am a real competitor," Clausen said. "That's what I try to do - come out here and compete and do everything I can to make myself and the team better."
Even though he is the third quarterback on the depth chart now, Clausen's ultimate goal is to be the Carolina Panthers starting quarterback.
"That's my goal and that's what I'm doing right now. I'm going to everything I can to become the starter," he said. "My mentality is to prepare like I'm the starter and just go out there each and every day and have that mindset."