The Carolina Panthers enter the upcoming season with one of the most unproven quarterback units in the NFL. With the departure of longtime signal caller Jake Delhomme, a 25-year old Matt Moore ascended the top of the depth chart and will more than likely begin the season as starter. Still wet behind the ears, Moore must transition from young gun to veteran while he breaks in a receiving corps undergoing changes as well. While rookie receivers Brandon LaFell and Armanti Edwards figure to breathe new life into the seemingly stagnant Carolina passing game, they could also pose hurdles for a young quarterback struggling to come into his own. So, despite being armed to the tooth with stellar weapons on offense – such as the one-two punch of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, plus perennial standout Steve Smith – the Panthers could struggle without an experienced leader under center. But have no fear Panther fans, because the Cardiac Cats have an ace-in-the-hole with rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen.
Clausen serves as the best insurance quarterback in the NFL for a number of reasons. He’s confident, motivated, and supremely talented. That is a killer combination of attributes for a young quarterback to possess. The Panthers obviously believe in him, too. In fact, Carolina general manager Marty Hurney even tried to trade up in the draft to acquire him even earlier. He is in a great spot in Charlotte. His skill set and the team’s needs seem to be a match made in heaven. Clausen is without a doubt the future of Carolina, but in the meantime he is a terrific backup plan for Matt Moore.
Since Clausen is the future of the team he is obviously more than just a flashy stopgap. For starters, the Panthers appear to be committing to his long term development by allowing him to grow before immediately taking the reins. John Fox and the gang are easing him into the position and are not rushing him into the starting gig prematurely.
Matt Moore led the Panthers to four victories in the last five games in 2009. His emergence as the projected starter for this season allows Clausen to focus on his own development rather than a position battle. It buys the rookie precious time during a crucial stage in his maturation. Currently, the former Notre Dame star sits third on the depth chart behind Moore and former practice squad quarterback Hunter Cantwell. This placement should minimize some of the external pressures that Clausen might feel from the organization to shoulder the team immediately. But, Clausen being the competitor that he is means that he is bound to put plenty of pressure on himself to contribute an succeed right away.
In all likelihood Clausen will surpass Cantwell for the primary backup gig by the end of the pre-season. The team is currently allowing him to progress outside of the spotlight. So far it appears to be paying off. He is already showing signs of maturity and poise. Critics have often labeled his confidence as cockiness, but recently he has avoided the headlines and focused on developing his skills and simply fitting in with teammates.
Of equal, or perhaps even greater, importance to Clausen’s value are the talents and experiences he brings to the position. On a team where experience is in short supply – only eight total NFL starts among all QBs (all of those belong to Moore) – Clausen’s playing time at Notre Dame serves as a valuable substitute. While he may never have played an actual down in the NFL, he did pass through former head coach Charlie Weis’ pro style offense. That should help improve the rookie’s learning curve and make him an even more valuable backup. Mix that with the fact that Panthers’ offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson was a former assistant to Weis, and the kid’s future starts to look even brighter. Clausen said of the transition, “Being in the system with coach Weis, and with coach Davidson coaching with him in New England, it’s the same terms and everything. It definitely helps me a lot.”
I am sure it did not seem like it on draft day, but Clausen could not have found a better home than Carolina.
Of course all the praise remains completely preliminary until he actually plays a down of real NFL football. But, the writing for success is on the wall. That type of upside makes for a stellar backup plan and insurance for an unproven quarterback such as Matt Moore.