When the dust settles Jimmy Clausen will be one of the worst picks in Carolina Panthers' history, and it's not the 25-year-old quarterback's fault. His second round selection was an act of desperation, thrown into a starting job before he had any business being there, on a team with no identity, and with a head coach who would be gone six months later. Now the fan base's scapegoat has reinvented his game, and slowly proving he has a future in the NFL.
Clausen is a walking meme. The perfect player to get cajoled and yelled by fans at in training camp, in an effort to gain acceptance by their peers. It's Saturday afternoon in Spartanburg, and Clausen is about to take third-team reps with a cadre of bubble players, and soon-to-be cut receivers. "C'mon Jimmy, do something!" a sarcastic shout comes from the left side of the home stands, as a group of bros laugh and remember his terrible 2010 season.
The quarterback drops back, scans the field from left to right, before finding UDFA James Shaw up the middle for a 15 yard gain. "Nice throw Jimmy!" another says, supported by a chorus of laughter -- but the joke is on these mocking fans, because it was a nice throw. It was followed by another, and then another. When the session was over Clausen not only held his own, but was the most consistent quarterback on a day where Cam Newton struggled to find his accuracy.
Make no mistake: Clausen will never be a reliable long-term backup in Carolina because of his arm strength. He doesn't have the deep-ball potential to enter a game and run a consistent vertical offense, but what he did show in camp was an ability to throw the ball with more velocity. This is due to a new, lengthened delivery, and better poise in the pocket. This new motion wont get him on the cover of ESPN magazine as a bionic quarterback, but it will find him a place on an NFL roster.
His future in the league will depend on a team that needs a quarterback who's careful with the ball, and doesn't need a playmaker at the position. It's easy (and fair) to mock a player who only threw three touchdowns in a season, but it's often forgotten that Clausen threw only nine interceptions in that rookie year. It's likely he'll become a similar player to the man he replaced in Carolina, Matt Moore -- a career backup who's reliable in short bursts, but never able to take the step to franchise QB.
The teasing will continue until he finally leaves the team, and he'll remain the symbol for all of 2010's failures, but if nothing else Clausen has handled the wisecracks like a true professional. Someone will wind up with a pretty good quarterback, and maybe something more if his new-found velocity is any example. The Panthers' first preseason game is his initial test, one where he can show that his play of 2010 was eons ago, even if only separated by a few years.