Jimmy Clausen is always accessible and always courteous. Even in 2010, his 2-14 rookie season, he never said no when asked a question, even when the questioner had criticized him in print.
On Friday, Clausen says no.
I dont really want to get into it, he says.
Is he responding to a query about whether hell someday start in the NFL?
Clausen is not. Hes responding to a question about a haircut.
He sent out a tweet in early May about his experience at a discount chain haircut shop in Charlotte.
Never going to (X) again! Clausen tweeted. Awful.
Tell me about it.
It was a little deal on Twitter, Clausen, 24, says before he says he doesnt want to get into it. A lot of people were up in arms about it. But it was all fun and games.
A rival chain immediately offered him a free haircut. The chain that offended him offered a free haircut. Strangers with lots of time debated why a millionaire quarterback would try to save money on his hairdo.
I was just being funny on Twitter, Clausen says.
It became an instant issue, picked up by leading and lesser websites everywhere.
Thats social media nowadays, says Clausen.
On Friday his blond Notre Dame Golden Dome hair is covered by a helmet at Carolina Panther OTAs.
But he looks good.
With Cam Newton excused because of a charity event in Atlanta, Clausen and Derek Anderson split repetitions at quarterback. Clausen isnt flawless; a pass to Brandon LaFell is neatly intercepted by cornerback Brandon Hogan.
But Clausen no longer is the quarterback who was so woefully overmatched his rookie season, the quarterback who still was shell-shocked when he reported to camp as a sophomore.
I agree with that, Carolina coach Ron Rivera says about the term shell-shocked. I think that it was tough. It was a tough situation to thrust any rookie in. Weve seen No. 1 draft picks that have gone through that and never really recovered.
Clausen recovered on the sideline in 2011, Riveras first season with the Panthers. On Friday, Clausen gets to play. He and Derek Anderson, 28, take turns running the offense.
I think Im getting better each and every day, Clausen says. Just come out and work hard. The more reps you get, the more times you watch tape, you see different things. You start getting a feel for this game. The speed of the game is probably the biggest adjustment. Now that itll be my third year its kind of slowing down to me.
Rivera sees it.
Jimmy has done some things that will really tell you he has the opportunity and the chance to play, Rivera says. And I think the thing thats been good to see is how his teammates have come around.
Its the final play Friday of a short scrimmage that includes every quality but contact, and the offense is in position to score. Clausen runs a play designed for Newton, taking the snap and sprinting right, a naked bootleg, escaping the rush, unprotected, and now he has to make a quick decision, and throw, on the run.
Seyi Ajirotutu runs a comeback route perfectly on the right sideline and Clausen hits him in stride for the score. The quarterback sprints to the receiver and they happily slap hands.
Clausen was beat on as a rookie by opponents, the media, fans and occasionally teammates. He was criticized as harshly as any Charlotte athlete has ever been. And he was terrible. The offense was terrible.
But he never hid and he never ran from questions and he never lost his affection for his sport.
Oh, I love football, Clausen says. To play this game you have to love it because were in here at 7 in the morning, dont leave until 5:30, 6 at night. Some days its a grind. But you have to love the game to play the game.
You love standing on the sideline and watching?
My job right now is to work as hard as I can and make myself better and just make the team overall better, Clausen says as we walk from the practice field to Bank of America Stadium. Thats how you win championships. Each guy on the team has a role and each guy on the team does that role to 110 percent of his ability. Coach Rivera stresses every day that we need each and every guy to do his role to make this team work.
I asked Rivera if Clausen would ever get an opportunity to start.
I think so, Rivera says. I do. The kids got a good arm, hes an accurate passer, hes learned a lot, and I think if he continues to grow this season hes going to get his opportunity.
Unless Newton gets hurt, the opportunity wont come with the Panthers. Assuming, then, the Panthers attempt to trade him, it would make sense for Rivera to inflate his value and thus increase what they could get.
But Rivera has been consistently, and surprisingly, candid since he came to town, and I believe him.
Clausen pauses outside the stadium as his teammates walk inside.
One last question: Do you think that someday youll get to cover your inexpensive haircut with a helmet and start?
I hope so, says Clausen, who laughs a small laugh. I hope so.