The case for Jimmy Clausen

With just eight days remaining until the NFL Draft most Notre Dame fans are wondering where will Jimmy Clausen wind up.

And there doesn’t seem to be very much clarity.

Todd McShay, the diminutive pundit of ESPN, has seemingly waged his very own personal crusade against Clausen. McShay, whose bona fides as a “draft expert” or “scout” remain a mystery to me, claims to have “various sources” that have informed him that Jimmy Clausen has “character issues”.

Say what?

To support his findings, McShay then referenced Limo Gate. For those of you unfamiliar with Limo Gate, it was Clausen’s grand entrance to the College Football Hall of Fame – not as inductee, of course, but rather to announce his verbal commitment to play for Notre Dame. The nerve of him! How dare he so brazenly declare his college intentions in such a spectacular fashion.

That was then, this is now. And by most accounts, Clausen has matured a bunch since then.

But, apparently not enough to suit Todd McShay. Perhaps that was where Jimmy crossed the line of objectivity for McShay. You see, McShay never had much of a college football career. In fact, he attempted to walk-on at the University of Richmond, only to quickly discover that there was no spot on the roster for him. He could not play. And no offense to Spider alumni but Richmond won’t soon be mistaken for Southern Cal. Or even Southern Miss.

Does McShay have any personal animus toward Notre Dame? Well, during his brief time at ESPN I could not name one Notre Dame player about whom he had positive things to say.

Now, in the interest of being fair to McShay, the last Notre Dame quarterback whom McShay sharply criticized was Brady Quinn. And, much as I like Quinn, he certainly has much work to do if he is to forge a successful NFL career.

But is it fair to compare Jimmy Clausen to Brady Quinn?

Perhaps the better question would be can Jimmy Clausen succeed and even excel as a starting quarterback in the NFL?

Firstly, Quinn was never given a fair shake in Cleveland. He had fewer than 10 starts in the NFL.

Ten.

And his supporting cast was perhaps weaker than his Dublin Coffman High School outfit. Alright, well maybe that’s a tad hyperbolic, but you get the point.

The Browns stink.

Now, in Denver, Quinn will have no excuses if he continues to languish. He has only to beat out Kyle Orton. The same Kyle Orton who, after being propped up as a leading Heisman Trophy contender by the national media during his senior season at Purdue, was ultimately benched by then head coach Joe Tiller. (Tiller, you’ll recall, was Wilford Brimley’s doppelganger)

As for Clausen, he projects as a better NFL quarterback than Brady Quinn.

1) Clausen is as accurate a quarterback that Notre Dame has ever had. Quinn, while statistically not too far below Clausen’s accuracy, did struggle with his accuracy from time to time in South Bend.

2) The deep ball.

This, to me, is what sharply distinguishes the two former Notre Dame quarterbacks. Quinn had guys like “The Shark”, Jeff Samardzija, and Maurice Stovall and Rhema McKnight (who made the spectacular grabs while oftentimes dropping the routine). That athletic band of wideouts had the knack to haul in overthrown tosses by their musclebound quarterback.

(I know, you might say Clausen didn't exactly have chopped liver, either. But as good as Floyd is (and he's outstanding), to this point in his career, he's nearly as fragile as chinaware. Then there's Golden Tate. What can you say about him other than he's probably the best wide receiver during the modern era at Notre Dame. He's better than Tim Brown. And nearly as dynamic, though not quite, as Raghib "Rocket" Ismail. Certainly no one is as fast as the Rocket was and his otherworldy 4.18 40-yard-dash. Will he have the kind of Pro Hall of Fame career as did Tim Brown? That's another matter.)

Conversely, Clausen all too often hit his receivers in stride. His deep ball was a splendid display of prime excellence. It’s Jimmy’s deep ball that leaves with you the vivid image and concrete certainty that he can and will succeed at the next level.

3) Leadership. This was Brady Quinn’s best feature. He was a leader, well liked and, more importantly, respected by the majority of his teammates.

Clausen, as McShay would like you to believe, was neither respected nor liked by his teammates. That’s interesting, particularly in light of his unanimous selection as captain of the 2009 squad. Who voted on this captaincy? You got it, his teammates.

Sort of shoots a few holes through McShay’s credibility, huh?

On the issue of toughness, McShay contends there are “concerns” over Jimmy Clausen’s durability.

Let’s see, here, the kid tears two tendons during the Michigan State game (the third game of the season), yet not only does he remain in the game but he leads his team to four comeback victories during an otherwise forgettable season (and Weis’ tenure) and nearly defeats Southern Cal in the process. All on essentially one leg, curtailed by an ineffective offensive game plan (which does not provide a running attack to support its quarterback) designed by a lame duck head coach.

Yeah. You’re right, McShay. Clausen is soft. Give me Sam Bradford. Now there is a tough guy. Bradford may well be a terrific NFL quarterback, but it stands to reason why McShay presents Bradford as a model of toughness and durability.

Isn’t this the kid who couldn’t stay healthy at all last season?

Where is Mel Kiper, Jr. and his immovably-sprayed mane when you need him? Kiper has long been an ardent supporter of Clausen. Kiper’s also been at this scouting thing a lot longer than the frat boy appearing McShay.

Joining in the Clausen Fan Club are two more distinguished gentlemen, each armed with impressive NFL pedigrees: former NFL quarterback Ron Jaworski and former NFL head coach Jon Gruden.

Jaworski, who quarterbacked his Philadelphia Eagles all the way to the Super Bowl in 1980, had this to say: "Yeah, there’s very little not to like about Jimmy Clausen. When you watch him play, he wants the ball in his hands. He’s LeBron James. He's Michael Jordan. With a game on the line, he wants to make the difference in the football game. So he clearly projects to me to be an outstanding National Football League quarterback, and I believe he’s only scratched the surface.''

And then there is Gruden, the former NFL head coach of both the Raiders and Buccaneers, who guided his Tampa Bay Buccaneers to its first Super Bowl victory. "I like the way this guy brings his football team back every Saturday,'' said Gruden. "He’s just a junior. He’s got a great football pedigree. He’s tough as heck, and he plays his best football in the fourth quarter when the games are tight or they’re behind.''

What’s that, Jon? Tough, you say?

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