CHARLOTTE – Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, who didn't take a single snap his first season in the NFL, sees both sides of the coin when it comes to starting as a rookie, as Jimmy Clausen will for the Panthers against the Bengals on Sunday.
"The positive thing is that he is getting a lot of experience early to where he will be a better quarterback at the end of the year and for sure be a better one next year," Palmer said.
"The negative thing," Palmer continued, "is that he is a rookie quarterback."
Even the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the game can't say they were completely prepared for their NFL debut, but some rookies are more ready than others.
Along that spectrum, Clausen appears more prepared than most.
"Jimmy is a guy that as you evaluate guys coming out (of college) had a good feel for the game, a good football IQ," head coach John Fox said. "To play in this league as a rookie, you've got to have a pretty good football IQ and football character, and I think he measures up."
At Notre Dame, Clausen played for Charlie Weis, who was offensive coordinator for five years with the New England Patriots, a run that included three Super Bowl victories. The Patriots staff during that time also included Jeff Davidson, the Panthers' offensive coordinator.
So when Clausen received his playbook after the Panthers picked him in the second round of the draft, it had a familiar feel to it.
"It wasn't a big learning curve," Clausen said. "There were nuances in this offense different than at Notre Dame. There was that, and getting used to the speed on the game."
Even without such a strong coaching tie, Clausen would have been ahead of the curve simply because Notre Dame employed a pro-style offense.
"A lot of college offenses these days don't even line up under the center," Fox said. "There are a lot of spread offenses, and they are quite a bit different than a pro-oriented offense. So playing in a pro passing attack in college definitely is an advantage."
Still, no matter how prepared Clausen is in terms of the playbook, he simply hasn't been around the league – or around his teammates -- long enough to be prepared for everything.
Clausen got some advice this week from New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, who directed the Jets to the AFC Championship as a rookie last season, on the importance of watching film with the offense's position groups.
Clausen also admitted that he needed more time with one vital member of the wide receiver group – Steve Smith. The Panthers' top receiver sat out most of training camp and didn't play in a preseason game, so when he did come back, he worked primarily with then-starter Matt Moore.
"The biggest thing is getting chemistry with Steve," Clausen said. "When Matt was the starter, he was taking all the reps with Steve, so the biggest thing is getting with Steve and getting our timing down. The few reps we do have, they need to be good and crisp."
There's really no predicting how Clausen will perform in his first start – or how the other 10 guys on offense will perform around him – but the Panthers think he's as ready as he can be at this early stage, and they're ready to find out.
"I felt good about his football character and his football IQ from a quarterback standpoint, and I think he's proven that through a very short look so far here with the Panthers," Fox said. "Now to do it out there in a game setting for four quarters, he hasn't had that opportunity yet, so we'll get a chance to see."