Spring Preview: Quarterback

With spring practice starting on March 20, Irish Eyes examines the Notre Dame roster. The number of scholarship players at quarterback has not been confirmed yet, but it looks like a good bet that there will be just two. While the Irish will be short on depth, they will be long on talent.

The last time we saw Jimmy Clausen he was accepting co-MVP honors with Golden Tate after leading Notre Dame to a 49-21 victory over Hawai'i in the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl on Christmas Eve.

Clausen's 22-for-26, 401-yard, five-touchdown performance against the Warriors is the best evidence yet of the former five-star prospect living up to the unreal expectations he came to Notre Dame with two years ago.

2009 will be Clausen's third spring in South Bend and Irish fans are hoping that over the next two years they will see more of the player they saw in Hawai'i and less of the one who took snaps for the majority of November.

Clausen started the season on fire and was Notre Dame's top weapon as they started the season 4-1 and he threw for career-highs in the fourth, fifth and sixth games of the year.

But over a four-game stretch at the end of the regular season against Boston College, Navy, Syracuse and Southern Cal, Clausen threw just two touchdowns versus eight interceptions.

Still, even before Clausen hit the ceiling at the Hula Bowl, Charlie Weis said that the fact that his quarterback had shown the potential to be great even on an inconsistent basis, leads him to expect more of the good and less of the bad.

"There are highs and lows, but eventually because you've seen the highs, eventually it's going to settle in and that's what it's going to end up being," he said.

DEPTH CHART:
Jimmy Clausen, Jr.
*Evan Sharpley, 5th
Dayne Crist, So.
Nate Montana, So.
*Notre Dame has yet to announce the players who have applied for a fifth year.

2008 STATISTICS:
Clausen: 268-440 (60.9%), 3,172 yards, 25 TDs, 17 INTs, 132.5 QB Rating
Sharpley: 3-5 (60.0%), 18 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs, 90.2 QB Rating
Crist: Did not play
Montana: Did not play

MOST TO PROVE: Clausen.

Clausen will undoubtedly enter the spring as the starter, but he needs to show that he is capable of making the same kind of progress between his second and third years that he made between his first and second years.

Clausen's accuracy, arm strength and ability to throw the deep ball are unquestioned, but he has to prove that his decision-making is improving and that he is developing a better sense of what he needs to do in the pocket.

It is hard to blame Clausen for trying to do too much in the second half of the season as teams dropped into coverage because the Irish could not run the ball. For awhile he was able to continue putting up numbers and keep Notre Dame in games with his arm, but when Michael Floyd went down with a knee injury, Clausen struggled without a key weapon.

In 2008, Clausen was a good quarterback, who showed the potential to be great. 2009 is the time for him to prove that he is a great one.

MOST TO GAIN: Crist.

If last year's backup, Evan Sharpley, does not apply for a fifth year of eligibility, Crist will become Notre Dame's No. 2 by default.

It is hard to envision a way for Crist to beat out Clausen in the spring, but if he wants any chance of doing so in the summer, he needs to continue to impress the coaching staff with his arm strength, mobility, leadership ability and other intangibles.

Coaches always talk about internal competition being better for everybody and if the Irish enter 2009 with only two scholarship quarterbacks, there will only be one spot to compete for.

Crist is both a competitor and a team player, so a competition heading into the summer would probably be a good thing for the Irish, even if it were just to keep Clausen on his toes. But the Irish coaches have made it clear, they are definitely not afraid of putting Crist in a game.

INTERESTING TO SEE: Who will be behind Clausen and Crist?

If Sharpley does not come back, then walk-on Nate Montana will move up to third on the depth chart the same way Crist will be bumped up to second.

On Signing Day, Weis said that early enrollee E.J. Banks could see sometime under center. But Banks, who was signed as a defensive back, is still recovering from surgery on his right knee in November. Banks would give the Irish a completely different look as a run-first quarterback, but missing spring ball makes him a very unlikely candidate to get any snaps in 2009, even in an emergency situation.

Sophomore receiver John Goodman played quarterback at Bishop Dwenger in Fort Wayne (IN) and while in high school said that he actually preferred playing quarterback because he had the ball in his hands on every play. It would not be surprising if he were given some snaps during the spring.


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