Carolina Panthers rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen, the team's top choice in last week's NFL Draft, looked like a boy at his first day of school on Thursday night. Except the scene was Bank of America Stadium as the Panthers gathered for orientation - meetings, physicals, dinner and media guide headshots - in advance of their three-day minicamp.
Dressed in a white polo shirt and black jeans and sporting a fresh haircut, Clausen smiled and shook hands with his new teammates, showing the same excitement a youngster does when meeting his new classmates. Equipment manager Jackie Miles fitted him for a helmet and issued him his number: 2. Clausen wore number 7 at Notre Dame, but that number already belonged to punter Jason Baker.
"They gave me a bunch of different choices," he said. "But at the end of the day, I saw Matt Ryan - a rookie quarterback a few years ago - wear number 2 and I kind of liked it. It's a little different than what normal guys wear, but I just like the number."
Projected by many draft analysts to be a first-round choice, Clausen was not selected until midway through the second round (48th overall) by the Panthers. A week later, he has shaken off the disappointment of not being picked on the first day and embraced the opportunity that awaits him in Carolina.
"It doesn't matter at all. I'm glad to be here," Clausen said. "I want to get to know my teammates as quick as I can and the coaching staff and just fit in and be one of the guys. I can't wait to get on the field."
While trying to find his way around the facility as he went from the equipment room to the team meeting room to the quarterbacks room and other locations, under Clausen's right arm he carried his playbook - a black,1.5-inch three-ring notebook containing more than 200 pages of terminology, plays and formations, spiral notebook for note taking, and pencil bag with pencils, pens, highlighters and erasers.
"I'm definitely going to be living with it," Clausen said.
One thing that will help ease Clausen's transition to the NFL and allow him to more quickly learn the Panthers' offense is the experience of playing in a pro-style system at Notre Dame. Former head coach Charlie Weis brought the offense to South Bend from the New England Patriots, where Panthers offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson and Weis worked together.
"It's definitely going to help me," Clausen said. "It's pretty much the same playbook, but at the end of the day there is a lot of new stuff, too. So I've got to study as hard as I can and prepare myself to do whatever I can to help this team win."
At Notre Dame, Clausen was one of the most prolific passers in Fighting Irish history. He left the school following his junior year ranked first or second in 32 passing categories, having completed 695-of-1,110 attempts for 8,148 yards and 60 touchdowns. A classic drop-back passer, Clausen brings with him intangibles such as leadership, grittiness and mental and physical toughness and measurable skills like accuracy, good mechanics and a quick release.
"All of those attributes carry (over), but at the end of the day you've got to get to know your teammates first and foremost. Just be one of the guys, hang out in the locker room with those guys," he said.
To get to know his new teammates, Clausen won't merely speak; he'll listen - just as he will to quarterbacks coach Rip Scherer and Davidson in the many meetings that await him in the coming months.
"I'm just trying to learn everything that they throw at me as quick I can and do whatever the coaching staff says," Clausen said. "And like I said, get to know my teammates as quick as I can and just have a lot of fun with this whole thing."