Clausen Leads Green Passing Attack

This was always going to be a rebuilding year for the Carolina Panthers. The team released a bevy of veterans in the offseason and entered 2010 with the youngest roster in the NFL. With Jimmy Clausen taking over, the campaign officially becomes less about wins and losses and more about progress.

The Panthers have known for months that the status quo wasn't going to be good enough for the passing game. Any time a team picks two quarterbacks and three receivers in the same draft, it's a sign that a rebuild is on the horizon.

The future of the passing game will begin ahead of schedule when Jimmy Clausen moves into the starting lineup Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Two of Clausen's top three targets at wide receiver will be rookies, as Brandon LaFell and David Gettis have each surpasses Dwayne Jarrett on the depth chart. It is possible Jarrett could fall all the way to the inactive list after being held without a catch against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That would open the door for another rookie receiver, Armanti Edwards, to make his pro debut.

If that sounds like too much youth for a successful passing game, it is. Two of the hardest positions for rookies to adapt to are quarterback and receiver. To fill both of those spots with rookies and expect cohesion and efficiency is unrealistic.

There are two ways for the Panthers to go about this. The first is to treat Clausen like Mark Sanchez, asking him to lean on his running game and defense while making conservative throws on an as-needed basis.

The second is to treat Clausen like fellow rookie Sam Bradford, who has thrown 80 passes in his first two contests. The downside of that plan is the St. Louis Rams are 0-2. The upside is Bradford's learning process has been greatly accelerated.

Expect the Clausen plan to fall somewhere between the Sanchez and Bradford scenarios. The Panthers have a strong running game and a defense that -- when its pass rush is clicking -- can take over games, so it's too early to throw the game plan out the window. But it's also vital to understand that this is a quarterbacks' league and the Panthers will only go as far as Clausen can take them.

Short-term success will be sporadic, as Clausen embarks on his new journey with players who are equally unfamiliar with the path ahead. On he flipside, the long-term potential is limitless.



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Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and also a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. You can see more of his updates by following him on Twitter.


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