Looking Ahead: Quarterback

In the next few weeks, Irish Eyes will look ahead to 2009 by examining each position group, first up is quarterback. Jimmy Clausen is fresh off an impressive performance in the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl, but what will the position look like heading into 2009?

Despite his performance in restocking the Notre Dame roster with depth and his reputation for developing quarterbacks, Charlie Weis and Notre Dame could be a little thin at the position in 2009.

The Irish had two quarterbacks transfer last year after they learned that they would not beat out the guy in the class behind them and Notre Dame chose not to include a quarterback in their upcoming recruiting class, leaving the number of scholarship signal-callers on next year's roster at three.

That number could be reduced to two if 2008 backup Evan Sharpley does not seek a fifth season in 2009. Sharpley's decision could depend on how he performs for the Notre Dame baseball team this spring and whether or not he gets selected in the next Major League Baseball amateur draft. Sharpley batted .324 with 13 homers and 40 RBIs for the Irish as a junior in 2007.

If Sharpley does not come back, the third-string quarterback would most likely be sophomore walk-on Nate Montana. If he does decide to return for another season of football, it is very likely that Sharpley's fifth year will look very much like his fourth, with tutoring Dayne Crist a chief responsibility.

Crist arrived at Notre Dame as a freshman in 2008 with the confidence to compete with Jimmy Clausen for the starting position, but the maturity to understand that he may have to wait his turn.

Both Weis and Crist admitted that the strong-armed quarterback suffered from a bit of information overload during his first preseason camp, but both coach and player seemed pleased with his progress by the end of his freshman year.

Crist's odds at earning significant playing time may have gotten a bit longer with Clausen's Hawai'i Bowl performance, but look for the Notre Dame staff to give him a chance to compete for the job in the spring.

It will be interesting to see if the leadership qualities that seem to ooze off of Crist carry over to any reps he gets with the first team in the spring. At the very least, Weis will have an exciting prospect to turn to if anything were to happen to Clausen in 2009.

A lot of things happened to Clausen as a sophomore in 2008. In his first healthy college season, Clausen showed the promise that made him one of the highest-rated high school players in recent memory. He also showed that he could be confused at times like any young quarterback and looked worst at the end of the regular season then he did at the start.

Then came the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl.

While Clausen showed extended glimpses of his potential, including a three-game stretch that featured consecutive career games, in Honolulu he gave Notre Dame fans a look at just how high his ceiling is with a 400-yard, five-touchdown performance.

The play of the quarterback suffered as the lack of a running game was exposed midway through the season. If the Irish can develop an adequate ground game it will make Clausen's job easier, but he also needs to take it upon himself to make better decisions and avoid forcing plays that are not there.

Clausen threw 17 interceptions in 2008 - some were his fault, some were not. In reality, it could have been even higher than 17 as he had a few balls dropped by the opposition and another called back on a penalty. That number needs to come way down in order for him to be considered an elite quarterback. Clausen has proven to be among the nation's best at throwing deep balls and fades, but he needs to become more consistent with his touch between safeties and linebackers.

Clausen averaged a relatively pedestrian 231 passing yards and 1.67 touchdowns per game, but showed that he is capable of much greater production. There were times when Clausen's numbers were low because his team did not need him to throw to win the game. Clausen averaged just 152.7 passing yards in wins over Michigan, Washington and Navy.

Then there was the 41-yard performance when the Irish were completely dominated by Southern California. But in the other nine games of the season, including the bowl win, Clausen had an average of 297 passing yards and 2.4 touchdowns.

The play of wide receivers should only improve as Golden Tate and Michael Floyd lead a group of young, talented athletes. But while his performance will be affected by those around him, Clausen needs to become the leader of the offense. More performances like the one in Hawai'i will make taking an increased leadership role easier, but Clausen needs to do it before the season ever begins.

The quarterback position could end up being the thinnest on the roster depth-wise, but with Clausen and Crist it could have the most potential production-wise.

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