By Chris Emma-
LAKE FOREST (CBS) — Long after the Bears had departed Wednesday’s practice in the Walter Payton Center, there was Jimmy Clausen with a football in hand.
Clausen dropped back, fired a bullet, then continued again and again. The work has been constant ever since he was signed by the Bears two weeks ago. There’s no time to waste.
“Long nights staying up, early mornings getting up in the meeting room and on the weekends, as well,” Clausen said. “But that’s what you have to do to catch up and get ready to go.”
This is a second chance for Clausen, the quarterback who showed up at the College Football Hall of Fame in a limousine, the heralded star from Notre Dame and the touted NFL prospect. And he was exiled from the league before really getting a chance.
After drafting Clausen in the second round of the 2010 draft, the Carolina Panthers pulled the plug on him after just 10 starts, moving in favor of top overall pick Cam Newton in 2011. The once-promising career of Clausen was put on hold.
“This league is all about opportunity and being in the right place at the right time,” Bears tackle Jermon Bushrod said. “You really don’t know how things are going to shape up. You could be a four-time All-American in college and come here in the league and never play.”
Fortunes changed when Bears coach Marc Trestman called Clausen recently, putting his faith in the quarterback he trained out of college.
The Bears have an established starter in Jay Cutler, but they also have an opportunity at the backup spot. Clausen is committed to winning that job.
“He’s working hard, and I think he likes the opportunity he has here,” Cutler said of Clausen. “He was a little humbled going through the process of being on the streets and then getting picked up again. He’s got a great attitude.”
Added Trestman: “Jimmy has done a very good job, very maturely fit in and taken the place of trying to learn the offense. He’s grinding at it.”
Ever since arriving in Chicago, it’s been all football for Clausen. He had one week to learn the Bears’ complex playbook before first taking the field with his new team, working through his audition for a training camp invitation. The studious efforts paid dividends, as Trestman confirmed Thursday that Clausen would be in Bourbonnais.
With mini-camp wrapped up at Halas Hall, the football isn’t ending for Clausen. He’s using the break to play catch-up.
“It’s difficult learning the whole entire offense in a week-and-a-half to two weeks,” Clausen said. “That’s what the off time is for — get back in the book, learn and get ready for training camp.”
Second chances don’t come often in the NFL, but Clausen had fortune on his side. Perhaps he can follow the path of Josh McCown, whom Trestman worked into a highly paid starter one year after he was picked up off the scrap heap. At the very least, Clausen has an opportunity to revive his career.
“He’s still here, he still has a chance, and you just never know,” Bushrod said. “He could catch the eye of someone here or another team. At the end of the day, I just wish him the best.”
Every extra throw and minute in front of the playbook can help Clausen ready for training camp. He wants a fair shot, something he doesn’t feel he got in Carolina.
A fresh start brings new hope for NFL success for Clausen, but it may be his one last chance.
“It’s do or die, per se,” he said. “I just got to go out there and compete. I know how to play the game of football; I’ve done it my entire life. I just have to learn the offense, go out there and compete, and make plays.”
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.