CHARLOTTE – Quarterback Jimmy Clausen saw plenty of Coach Pete Carroll in college, and now that both have made their way to the NFL, they're set to cross paths again.
Clausen, a California native, seriously considered playing for Carroll at Southern California before ultimately attending Notre Dame. Clausen faced Carroll and the Trojans the last three years in college, and now he's poised to lead the Panthers against Carroll's new team, the Seattle Seahawks.
"Pete Carroll is a great guy. I almost went there and played for him, so we have a pretty good relationship," Clausen said. "He's a great coach. He'll have those guys ready to play."
Carroll and the Trojans beat Clausen and the Fighting Irish each of the last three seasons, in blowout fashion in 2007 and 2008 and in a close call in 2009.
Before their matchups, Clausen faced a close call when it came to picking either Notre Dame or Southern Cal as his college destination.
"When it went down to the wire in recruiting, I felt it came down to him looking at it from a competitive situation and who he was going to have to go against," Carroll said. "Eventually he was going to have to match up with (Mark) Sanchez (at Southern Cal), and at Notre Dame it was much different than that. He made a great choice and he has played a ton of football with a good career at Notre Dame."
Carroll, who started tracking Clausen in ninth grade, sees a bright future for the quarterback.
"Jimmy has a great arm and great accuracy about him; he has great vision and all of the things a quarterback needs," Carroll said. "It's just fitting it together with the tempo of the game with the new program."
WILLIAMS MAKE MARK: Panthers linebacker Jason Williams wondered what he had done wrong.
Soon, however, he found it was just the opposite.
When Williams went into a special teams meeting a week ago, he was informed that he'd be playing with the second-stringers rather than the starters. He learned later in the day that it wasn't a demotion, when he worked as a starting linebacker in practice to get ready for his first NFL start Sunday at Cleveland.
"It's a tremendous opportunity, something I had been working toward since I got here," said Williams, who responded by forcing and recovering a fumble in addition to making seven tackles. "We have a young group here with some key guys hurt, so I thought it was a chance for me to step up and do something."
Williams started at weakside linebacker in place of Nic Harris, who had started the previous two games. Both have gotten a shot in the absence of Dan Connor, who is out for the season with a hip injury.
Williams has been with the team just four weeks, since the Panthers claimed the former third-round pick out of Western Illinois off waivers from the Dallas Cowboys.
"It was new terminology, plus I probably hadn't played any live defensive reps in about a month and a half," Williams said. "I kind of got thrown into the fire, but I thought I responded well."
JOHNSON'S JUMP: The Panthers wondered who would pick up the sack slack with the departure of Julius Peppers.
So far, it's been Charles Johnson, who backed up Peppers at defensive end his first three seasons.
Johnson has collected a team-high 5.5 sacks and appeared to have another sack Sunday at Cleveland that was credited to Tyler Brayton.
"Charles has been playing well for us. He's gotten a lot of snaps and has been able to make a lot of plays, particularly in the backfield," said fellow defensive end Everette Brown, who has two sacks this season. "He's been able to step his game up, produce and take his game to another level."