From the day he was drafted, quarterback Jimmy Clausen said he felt comfortable with the Carolina Panthers offense.
Now that he's on the verge of his first game, Clausen said he's had a breakthrough during recent days which have given him hope that there's more to come.
"The biggest thing for me right now is everything's starting to slow down for me a little bit," Clausen said Tuesday. "When we first got to camp it was the same as (offseason training activities), just trying to get out there and play as fast as I can, but I was still trying to get used to the speed of the game and making all the right calls and reads and knowing my progressions.
"Now I'm kind of coming into it and it's slowed down a lot for me. (Monday) I really felt it. It was just like playing football all over again. It's slowing down."
The change in Clausen has been noticeable. He walked in the door with a command of the principles, since he ran a similar system at Notre Dame. Now that he's feeling more secure, his abilities are beginning to show more and more.
While he's still behind starter Matt Moore - and will continue to be if both keep playing the way they are - he and Hunter Cantwell have split work with the second team throughout camp, but Clausen's improvement over the past two weeks has been clear.
He's the most mobile quarterback on the roster, evidenced by some smart duck-and-runs out of the pocket. And while he doesn't have the arm strength of Moore and Cantwell, he throws a catchable ball and is extremely accurate.
Coach John Fox said he's looking forward to seeing Clausen in a game, but he has been encouraged by his progress.
"I've seen a steady improvement with him," Fox said. "I'm sure there is a better comfort zone. I liken it to learning a foreign language. He knows how to communicate better. I'm sure he feels more comfortable, and when you kind of understand it you can do it faster."
In addition to the football, Clausen also has been a quick study when it comes to fitting in. Though he's been a topic of national fascination, he's kept a low profile in camp, and said Tuesday his goal is simply to blend in.
"That's what I do, I'm just one of the guys," he said. "That's what I try to do with everything. Have lunch with the guys. We were just downstairs playing a little basketball tournament in the locker room. Just hanging out with one of the guys and being one of the guys is what I'm here to do."
That runs counter to the perception of Clausen many have, but watching him here, it appears genuine. He and the rest of the quarterbacks are the first players on the field each day, sign autographs every day, and go about their work.
While he's yet to endure any rookie hazing - there's no Tim Tebow/Friar Tuck haircut under his white hat - he has taken a few extra measures.
Before May minicamp, receiver Steve Smith requested a 12-pack of Cactus Cooler, a soft drink unavailable on this coast. It went over so well, and so many teammates asked for a cut, that Clausen arranged for a pallet of the soda to be delivered to Bank of America Stadium. That stash was transferred here this week to be shared with the West Coasters who miss the taste of home.
While it's a load of soda, 30 cases to be exact, it's the kind of small step Clausen has taken throughout his stay.
He has fallen in fairly naturally into the Panthers young quarterback room, and said Moore has been helpful.
"Matt's been around the block with two teams and he's learned a lot; so just learning from Matt and having him there as the older guy to help us out really helps a lot," Clausen said. "We were watching tape (Monday) together on Baltimore and he was just telling me the difference between practice and a game is way different. ... When you're practicing against your own guys they see you every single day, so they can disguise coverages as late as they want. That's what they do when they're at practice. But once you get into a game they're going to have to show their hand to you. I think that's an advantage to us, practice is definitely going to be harder than the game.
"It's one of the little things he taught me."
Clausen said he's not sure when he'll take the field during Thursday's preseason opener, but he gets a little glint in his eye at the topic. He said his parents will fly in from California for the game, and while the third quarter of an August game in Baltimore might not have the sparkle he's used to, the fact the game's around the corner still had him grinning.
"Obviously it's going to be the first time live since college, so it's going to be fun out there," he said. "Just have a lot of fun and make plays."