A big part of being a quarterback is being a leader, especially at Notre Dame. Judging solely on what he says, Jimmy Clausen is clearly developing into a strong leader that the Fighting Irish will be able to count on.
After a 3-9 record in 2007, the sophomore is quick to explain what happened while taking accountability and not making excuses.
"Coming in as a freshman, it's pretty tough to come in and know the whole entire playbook and go out on the field and execute it, let alone be in the huddle and if guys have questions help them out," Clausen told the media on Wednesday. "I definitely wasn't able to do that last year. I was pretty much overwhelmed last year and just tried to do the best that I could and it wasn't good enough."
Then Clausen abruptly steers the conversation away from the past.
"I did the best I could last year, we're done with last year. We've moved on and we're looking forward to this Saturday," he says.
But he doesn't want to look too far into the future either.
When asked about how much of Charlie Weis's playbook he could learn in the years to come, he responds, "I'm not really trying to look ahead right now, I'm just trying to focus on getting better each and everyday and getting ready for this Saturday."
It is no secret that he was probably the most highly touted high school prospect in a generation, outside of maybe his position coach, but when asked about it, Clausen shifts the question to include his teammates.
"I think everyone feels pressure coming to the University of Notre Dame, it's so high profile," he says. "Once you step on the field you've just got to be yourself and do what you did in practice. You've got to practice to play good and I think that's what we're doing right now."
The offensive line was clearly one of the biggest problems for last year's offense, but the quarterback places the blame for some of those mistakes on himself and talks about the things that he can do better.
"First off I know the protections and I know the hots and sights (this year), if pressure is coming, where I'm going to throw the ball. Last year, like I said, I didn't really know everything about the playbook especially about the protections," says Clausen. "One thing about the linemen, I think they know exactly what they're doing, they know the gameplan and they're ready to go. In practice they're extremely physical and they're getting after it. I think they're going to be ready to go Saturday."
Even with senior captain and wide receiver David Grimes sitting to his immediate right, Clausen would not declare a favorite target among the receivers.
"When the game is on the line I think that you're going to look to that receiver that you want to throw the ball to," he says. "The good thing about our team is that I feel extremely confident with every receiver that we've got whether it's David, Golden (Tate), Duval (Kamara), Michael Floyd, George West, Robby Parris. You know, any of the receivers. At a crucial situation I'm going to get the ball to whoever I get it to."
Clausen admitted that one day he would like to do what Grimes has been able to do and become a captain.
"I hope so. I think that's one of my good aspects and my leadership skills," he says. "I take that really highly and that's what I look at myself as a leader, on and off the field. I just hope one day I can be a captain like David."
Clausen, who had an elbow injury that hampered his progress before the 2007 season, packed on almost 20 pounds and spent time working out with his teammates and coaches before this season.
"I've worked hard in the offseason with the coaches, Coach Weis and Coach Powlus, and with the rest of the guys like David, the running backs, the tight ends, just trying to get on the same page and get ready to go for the season," he says.
Even with the added weight and the healthy arm, Weis expects the majority of Clausen's improvement in 2008 to come from his mind.
"He was more play to play last year. Like let's get this play run and then we'll start worrying about the next one. Where now he's a lot more forward thinking," Weis says of his quarterback. "I met with him at the beginning of the week, I met with him on Monday for an hour with him and (quarterbacks coach) Ron (Powlus). And in that conversation tried to give him a prelude of, ‘OK, here's what's different this year from last year.' Here's how you should be thinking. Here's how the week should play out for you. And in there you have to put class and study hall and everything else. But you have to tell him this is how your preparation should change this year from how it was last year."
For Clausen, the meeting was about shifting out of preseason mode.
"It was just talking about game week is here. It's not camp, it's not spring football, it's game week," he says. "You've just got to take a different look to practice, it's not just going out and just practicing, it's actually going out and practicing and getting ready to play a game on Saturday."
The head coach expects that Clausen knows what he'll be asked to do and expects him to be ready to do it.
"First of all, just running the offense. Managing, controlling the offense. I think that issue is part of running the offense. I mean from presence in the huddle to demeanor, to making sure the 40-second clock is a non-issue, so all of a sudden you're not calling timeouts because you're getting down to the last two seconds because we took too long to do it," says Weis. "Whether it's a check-with-me or a check at the line of scrimmage or making sure you go through a progression or making sure you do all those things. I'm expecting him mentally to play a very sharp game. Even though it's the opener, I think he's mentally played this game multiple times already."
Clausen says that he plays the game out everyday.
"Whenever I go out to practice I see myself as in a game situation whether it's going through the run game, or individual or 9-on-7 or going through the pass game 7-on-7 or in team. I just view it as a game," he says. "I think that's the best thing to do is go out there and see it as a game situation and play it just like you're in a game."
A number of coaches have pointed out that Clausen has already earned the respect of his teammates with the way he carries himself off the field. Now, Clausen needs to do it on the field and he knows that can't start happening until Saturday.
"You're not going to take control of the whole entire offense and the whole entire team until you start making plays out on the field and that hasn't happened yet because we haven't played a game yet, so once the season starts we'll see what happens."