Rookie Report: One Step at a Time

As this miserable season slugs along, Panthers fans are already looking forward to the potential No. 1 draft pick. Most of the fans are looking at one name: Stanford QB Andrew Luck. With so much uncertainty surrounding the team, what must Jimmy Clausen do to prove his worth as the franchise quarterback?

Before the game against the Cleveland Browns, color commentator Torry Holt said he spoke with Jimmy Clausen and asked him whether he was the quarterback of the future in Carolina.

Holt said Clausen's response was an emphatic: "Yes." Now, he has to prove it.

Clausen made a move in the right direction this week, as he once again avoided total disaster and managed the game. He threw one interception, but he completed 16 of 28 passes for 195 yards.

Most importantly, Clausen was not the reason for the Panthers racking up their tenth loss. In fact, he put his team in position to win the game. Clausen's completions to Mike Goodson and Brandon LaFell of 32 and 28 yards, respectively, were the only reason the Panthers had a shot at a game-winning John Kasay field goal.

RB Mike Goodson
Matt Sullivan/Getty
The credit for the first completion goes to Goodson for incredible effort and determination. But Clausen's pass to LaFell was, simply, a thing of beauty.

Quite often this season, Clausen has been faced with a two-minute drill where he needed to lead the Panthers down the field and put his team in a position to score. Up to this point, Clausen had come up short. But against Cleveland, Clausen delivered. His 28-yard pass to LaFell was crisp and efficient. It came during crunch time and Clausen's spiral was placed where either LaFell was going to catch it or no one was.

While the veteran Kasay wasn't able to pull out the win, it was refreshing to see the rookies step up in crunch time. So far this season, Clausen has a 54.6 passer rating in the fourth quarter. He's folded under the pressure a few times, but he seems to be gaining confidence.

Clausen is checking his primary and secondary receivers before scrambling or throwing the ball away, which is a major improvement. He needs to get the ball to Steve Smith more (Smith had only two catches against Cleveland), but overall Clausen seems to be progressing.

Strangely enough, Clausen has played his best football outside of Charlotte. His 73.5 passer rating on the road is nearly double his 38.7 rating at home. Namely, he has played well at New Orleans and at Cleveland.

Clausen expects to start at Seattle this Sunday and continue his success on the road. But for the Panthers to win, he needs another solid game from the running backs and he needs to find Smith more.

Clausen mentioned this past week he's feeling more confident under center as the season progresses. TE Jeff King also commented that Clausen has gone through growing pains but is still improving.

By season's end, Clausen must improve his game at home, continue with these late-game successes and win a couple of more games before fans and coaches will deem him the future or franchise quarterback.

Otherwise, it could be a very interesting competition between Clausen and a rookie trying to make a name for himself at training camp next season.

Should the Panthers draft QB Andrew Luck? Discuss inside the message boards.

Alex Montgomery is a graduate of Western Carolina University with a degree in Professional Writing. He has worked for the Western Carolinian and his hometown newspaper, the Kernersville News. He currently resides in Charlotte, NC. You can see more of his updates by following him on Twitter.

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