Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis acknowledged that he is not sure that there is a next level for Jimmy Clausen to reach after his season-ending performance in the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl, admitting, "That might be the best game he ever plays."
But Weis and quarterbacks coach Ron Powlus have worked with Clausen on achieving a certain level of consistency with his play against various defenses.
"Any time a team would play a soft zone against us, having the patience to understand what you do against a team playing a soft zone," Weis said. "That comes back to that maturity thing…where we just take what they give and you don't try to force something down the field, and be methodical in what you do and be meticulous."
The other thing that Weis wanted his quarterback to improve was moving around the pocket.
"Know where the pressure is, being able to slide to your left or slide to the right or step up or step back without bailing out of there," said Weis. "Then being able to look down field and see where your receivers are and still be able to throw them the ball.
"I think specifically, for him to take it to the next level, those are two issues that he's going to have to work on. Be patient when people are playing soft zone, and then him, for Jimmy in particular, to work on movement in the pocket. Not from the pocket, but moving in the pocket."
Powlus, who works with the quarterbacks everyday on moving their feet in the pocket and keeping plays alive, has seen that work pay off already.
"He's making a lot of progress so far," he said. "You can see him in scrimmage situations, he knows he's not going to get hit, but he's working in the pocket to put himself in position to throw."
"It's coming along slowly but surely," Clausen said. "I've still got a long ways to go before the season comes around. I'm going to work hard in the offseason and coming up in the summertime."
According to the staff, Clausen has been impressive overall, especially with receivers Michael Floyd, Duval Kamara and Deion Walker missing time with injuries and Golden Tate only being able to attend a third of the spring practices while playing baseball.
"I've been very pleased with the quarterbacks," Weis said. "But I'll table my opinion of the passing game because of the lack of receivers I have had. As long as the quarterback is going to the right guy, that's one thing, but if you don't have somebody who can get open, that's something else. "
Mastering the fundamentals of recognizing the weaknesses of the defense and moving in the pocket will help Clausen get himself to the next level, but in order to bring the rest of the squad with him, he needs to become the leader of the offense and the team.
"Great quarterbacks are guys that the whole team has confidence in," Weis said.
Powlus has seen Clausen start to show the signs of growing into a great leader.
"I think he's gotten a lot better with the way he's leading the team, his mannerisms, his words that he's using and the way he's carrying himself," Powlus said. "He's matured."
The team has responded.
"Jimmy's making a lot of progress and Jimmy is pulling the team along," Powlus said. "Because he's raising his game and everybody is raising up to continue to play with him."
That leadership has stretched to all areas of the team.
"He's always had it, but I think he always had to hold it back because we were the younger guys," linebacker Brian Smith said. "Now that we're the veterans of the team, he's letting it rip. I hear him down there from the defensive field getting into some of the offensive players…You hear him constantly from the other side of the field.
Smith, who is considered by many to be the leader of the defense, said that while Clausen had flashed those qualities before, never in this quantity.
"You saw it and you heard it, but now it's like constant, consistent, every day you hear Jimmy," Smith said. "It's promising because he's the leader of our team. He's the quarterback of the offense, he has to be the leader, which he's doing."
CHARTING DEPTH: If Clausen had a strong grip on the starting quarterback job heading into spring practice, that grip has to be considered even firmer now.
While Weis and Powlus have lauded the progress that sophomore-to-be Dayne Crist has made, it was reported that he struggled at times early in the spring correctly identifying the Mike linebacker and the staff had to talk with him about not trying too hard to beat out Clausen.
"Dayne's a really conscientious kid who is trying really hard to get things right," Powlus said. "You can just see him pressing. At times, not always, but at times, he is not himself. The most important thing for Dayne to focus on is flourishing as the quarterback that he is and he'll be a successful quarterback.
"It's all a result of positives that that happens, but it's something that you've got to temper a little bit."
The conversations seem to have worked as Crist followed with his best week of practice this spring.
"The arrow is starting to turn up," said Weis, who gave Crist significant reps with the first team last week. "He could get in their with the first huddle more and not just being going in with twos all of the time…To get him acclimated to being able to run with those guys instead of running with the twos all of the time."
KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR: John Goodman has competed at wide receiver in each of the first 12 spring practices and while that competition seems far from over, he will get his shot at quarterback when the Irish return to practice on Wednesday, April 15.
"All of the individual periods on the 15th for sure, he'll be at quarterback, he won't be at receiver," Weis said.
Goodman did not sound nearly as excited about taking snaps as he did about catching passes from the quarterbacks.
"I'm looking at receiver right now, that's my main objective," Goodman said early in camp. "I haven't even really thought about it. My main objective is receiver, that's my main position…I haven't even worked on quarterback since high school."
"You've got to let them spend their time on defense, but they're both guys that obviously could play the position," Weis said of McCarthy and Banks.
INJURIES, ETC.: The quarterbacks have not missed anytime this spring, which is not surprising considering the regulations on them being hit, but with only two scholarship signal-callers on the roster, health will be a paramount concern all year.