SPARTANBURG The quarterbacks form a line Monday as they kneel and stretch before practice, and their status determines their position in it. Starter Cam Newton kneels at the front, back-up Derek Anderson kneels five yards behind Newton, and Jimmy Clausen kneels five yards behind Anderson.
Clausen, however, has considerably more experience on his knees this preseason than Newton or Anderson. Clausen was sacked five times in Carolinas exhibition loss to Houston Saturday, and he lost a fumble.
To be fair, Clausen was working behind Carolinas third-team offensive line. But he was working against a third-team defense. And hes third team.
Clausen completed three of six passes for 24 yards, 19 fewer than he lost on sacks. Obviously, its better to go down than to throw an interception. But its better to throw the ball away than take a sack.
Clausen held the ball as if it were a fragile heirloom and he didnt want the wrong people touching it. So they touched him instead.
It was disappointing because weve got to get him protected to get him an opportunity, Panther head coach Ron Rivera said Monday after practice. Now he ate the ball a couple times on his own accord. Youd like to tell Jimmy just get that out and throw it away.
Riveras predecessor, John Fox, once said the same thing.
Rivera adds that Clausen is resilient. He came back (Monday); he had a pretty good practice so hopefully we can get him in a situation where he can be out there with some more veteran offensive linemen to help protect.
The third-team line probably was porous. But in this, Clausens third season, he still allows himself to be overwhelmed.
Clausens performance Saturday isnt terribly important. As long as the quarterbacks in front of him remain healthy, his services wont be required. He wasnt activated last season.
Are there third-team quarterbacks more accomplished than Clausen? Have no idea. I cant think of any third-team quarterbacks.
The Panthers selected Clausen in the second round of the 2010 draft, and they expected him to become a starter and maybe a star. He played in 13 games as a rookie and started 10. The Panthers won a league-low two games, and Clausen was overmatched. He took one of the worst beatings, in every way, of any player in Carolina history. If he was ever confident, that quality was beaten out of him, too.
Last season the Panthers offered him an opportunity to regroup. Clausen went to meetings, held clipboards and worked with Newton, a rookie, and learned from Anderson, a veteran.
His work Saturday implies he still is reeling. You cant meekly wait for the pocket to collapse and hold the ball. Risk a mistake. Clausen averaged four yards per attempt and eight yards per completion.
As a result, the only Panther who can compete with him for Player Most Likely to be Criticized by Fans is kicker Olindo Mare.
But you probably should consider this:
Long after Clausens teammates had peeled off their jerseys, pads and helmets after practice Monday, No. 7 took snaps. Two reserve offensive linemen stood in front of Clausen. An intern stood near the right sideline, awaiting a pass. Another intern, a tall one, rushed Clausen with his arms extended and hands up. A third intern whacked Clausen with a blue pad moments before he delivered the ball.
Nothing Ive seen Clausen do implies he is an NFL quarterback.
But his work after practice suggests that he wants to be.