BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — News of the Chicago Bears signing a quarterback, once the 48th overall pick in the 2010 draft, was largely swept under the rug this offseason.
Very quietly, the Bears this offseason offered a lifeline to Jimmy Clausen, who once was the face of the Notre Dame program and who started 10 games as a rookie in the NFL but who also spent the past three seasons almost atrophying with the Carolina Panthers.
Clausen struggled as a rookie on a bad offense but never had time to grow with the Panthers, who the next year drafted Cam Newton first overall. The last time Clausen took a regular-season snap in the NFL was January 2, 2011. He suffered a torn labrum in the preseason finale last August and spent the season on injured reserve.
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And here he is reporting to Bears camp, playing catchup in order to try to win a job in reserve behind starter Jay Cutler. Veteran Jordan Palmer and even sixth-round pick David Fales have been in head coach Marc Trestman's system longer than Clausen, who signed in June.
Don't count out Clausen to win the backup job, said GM Phil Emery, who has been impressed with what he has seen from an intangible standpoint so far.
‘‘I really like how he came in here,” Emery said Wednesday. “He’s got a little chip on his shoulder right now. He wants to re-prove himself and he’s very focused.
“He came in here and got Jay on the phone right away and they spent the weekend together learning the playbook so that he had the best opportunity to stick with the team. That determination ... [Clausen] squared his jaw and got to work, and that is what I liked about him. He’s got a certain mental toughness and intelligence and he showed his accuracy and release quickness.”
Clausen said he and Cutler bore into the playbook from cover to cover, going over the basics and sorting through the terminology.
"It helped me a lot," Clausen said.
But what kind of reception did Clausen expect from Cutler? Honestly, he wasn't sure.
"Yeah, I am a little bit [surprised]," Clausen said. "You hear things around the league ... 'Jay is this, Jay is that. Guys are this, guys are that.' But you don't know a guy until you play with him, and he's just like the rest of the guys on the team."
If there's anyone who can appreciate an open mind, Clausen — you'd imagine — would be one. His reputation now, compared to where it was coming out of college, is fairly low, to the point where there was little interest in him on the free-agent market before the Bears came calling.
That said, he also carried some demons with him from Notre Dame. Although Clausen had a decorared career, he is the player who showed up on campus as a freshman in a white limo, and anonymous scouts called him privileged and insinuated that he was not a worker.
With little chance since the 2010 season to slay some of those demons, Clausen hasn't been able to change many people's minds — on or off the field. I asked Clausen what he thought his reputation was around the league at this point in his career.
"Everybody has their own opinions," he said. "Until you get to know someone, whoever it may be, but until you get to know that person, I think it's unfair to make a judgment on somebody without getting to know them, but that's just how this world is today."
Clausen felt Newton also was branded in a certain negative light coming out of college and has had trouble shedding that reputation, even as he has played well at times.
"You can't be close to someone until you talk about their family and their brothers and sisters and really spend time with them," he said.
Trestman said Palmer is the No. 2 for now but that there will be an open competition for the backup job. Cutler said he's interested to see how the battle plays out and that he will have his eye on Clausen.
"Jimmy, he’s played in big games at Notre Dame and kinda [has] the pedigree," Cutler said Wednesday. "He’s a high-round pick, he was in a tough position in Carolina."
And while Clausen is not in a position to start, he at least feels like he has the chance to be appreciated again.
"I am excited," he said. "I can't wait for Friday [the first day of camp]."
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