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updated: 8/25/2014 8:27 PM

Clausen puts in the work, wins the job

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  • Bears quarterback Jimmy Clausen, falling just short of the goal line in Friday's loss at Seattle, came up the winner in the battle to back up Jay Cutler.

    Bears quarterback Jimmy Clausen, falling just short of the goal line in Friday's loss at Seattle, came up the winner in the battle to back up Jay Cutler.
    Associated Press


Jimmy Clausen, just anointed Bears top backup behind Jay Cutler, was a quarterback without a team less than three months ago.

Part of what helped him ascend from that level to his current position was the three years he spent sitting and watching as a Carolina Panthers benchwarmer from 2011-13.

After struggling through 10 starts as a rookie with a hideous 2-14 Panthers team in 2010, Clausen took a back seat to Cam Newton, who has started 48 straight games since the Panthers drafted him first overall in 2011.

The Bears signed Clausen on June 5, after he had missed a good portion of their off-season program. But the 26-year-old former second-round pick (48th overall) was able to grasp the offense and perform proficiently enough to unseat Jordan Palmer, who came into training camp as the No. 2 but was released Sunday.

"Just sitting and learning really did help," Clausen said. "I didn't have that in college. I didn't have that in high school."

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Clausen started 34 games in three years at Notre Dame before declaring for the draft after his junior season. He went 42-0 as a four-year starter at Oaks Christian High School in Westlake Village, California.

"Just to sit back and take a step back and look at everything helped the game slow down a little bit for me," he said. "I just learned how to play in the NFL, because it's totally different from college."

When Clausen got a fresh start with the Bears, he attacked it with a vengeance, especially the mental aspect of having to learn a new offense on the fly.

That process has been compared to learning a foreign language, and Clausen quickly became fluent, but it required some late-night cramming in his first several weeks.

"The terminology, that's the biggest thing," he said. "Concepts are the same since high school and college until now. But learning a whole different language in a month-and-a-half is pretty tough.

"You've just got to grind it out every day, spending hours studying, going over flash cards, just trying to memorize formations and plays and concepts and get all the old stuff out of my head and get this stuff ingrained."

Clausen credits Cutler with helping him get acclimated so quickly.

"He's helped me tremendously," Clausen said. "The first day I got here, he was (at Halas Hall) helping me. In the morning, he came and picked me up, and we started getting to work. Just to see him doing that for a guy they just brought in is something special. I really appreciate it."

Bears coach Marc Trestman was impressed by Clausen's study habits.

"He came in here and really worked hard to learn this offense," the coach said. "He's extremely detailed. Extremely. That really helped him get up to speed quickly."

Trestman said there were several other factors that weighed in Clausen's favor during the evaluation process between he and Palmer, who has five years in the league but zero starts.

"As I told Jordan," Trestman said, "Jimmy played at a consistent level, as did Jordan. (But) Jimmy's played a lot more football in this league. He's younger. I thought the competition was very close. But the upside for Jimmy, his age, his experience (were all positive factors).

"He came highly recommended from some people I trust in Carolina (because of) his ability to handle the adversity that he had in his first year. He stood tall through a lot of tough times in Carolina and gained the respect of his teammates with the way he handled himself in a very, very difficult year."

That has become a distant memory to Clausen, who hasn't taken a snap in a regular-season NFL game in more than 3½ years, since Jan. 2, 2011.

"It's been quite awhile," he said. "I don't even remember the last game I played … my rookie year. But it's a great opportunity (here). I've just got to keep going out each and every day and keep getting better and do everything I can to help the team win."

If he does, all that downtime will be time well spent.

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