It’s one of Carolina Panthers general manager Marty Hurney’s core beliefs, the idea that you can’t fairly judge individuals when the whole team has gone south.
But one of Hurney’s pet projects is going to have to perform now to keep a job, even if that’s contrary to his patron’s philosophy.
As meaningless as the final six games of the season may appear, they could be nothing short of career-defining for quarterback Jimmy Clausen.
The rookie will start today, in a setting and situation similar to what he’s familiar with from college. It’s going to be cold, it’s going to be raw, and he’s going to be surrounded with sketchy talent.
But unless he starts proving himself ready to rise above the surroundings, his chance to become the Panthers quarterback of the future may be a short one.
The reality is that if the Panthers continue to sink and end up with the first pick in the draft, it’s probably going to be hard to bypass Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck (assuming he enters the draft). He’s big, he’s strong, he’s smart and tough, and plays in a system drawn up with the pros in mind (and his coach Jim Harbaugh might be thinking package deal).
Scouts who’ve watched Luck closely this year insist he has the potential to be better than Ryan, than Flacco, than Sanchez or Stafford or Bradford. One who’s seen each of Stanford’s games said last week: “I’m not sure what the questions are going to be with this kid.”
With Clausen, as well as with his entire team, there are still plenty, and he has six weeks to start answering them, or risk being covered up.
Before the concussion he suffered on the final play at Tampa Bay, he was in the midst of his best game. He was efficient early, and made a few adult passes as the game went on, the kind of 20-yarders and third-down conversions that a starter has to be able to make when conditions aren’t perfect. The end result wasn’t much to look at, but those handful of throws were the first clear signs that Clausen’s beginning to get it.
Clausen was drafted because Hurney thought he had a little of that Jake Delhomme toughness, the kind of edge that makes some uneasy at times. It’s been hard for Clausen to show it this year, so arbitrarily jerked in and out of the lineup. But today’s a golden chance, an opportunity to compare himself to the guy the Panthers are going to compare quarterbacks against for years to come.
If he can finish this season with a flourish, it might be enough to convince them he’s still the guy. If he flops, it’s going to be hard to ignore the latest, greatest thing.
Regardless of what Clausen does down the stretch, replacing him after this season would be unfair at it’s core. But go ask Brian St. Pierre and Tony Pike about fair this season.
Fair doesn’t stand in the way of a reclamation project, and if the Panthers have to good/bad fortune to be in position to draft Luck, even Hurney’s long-held beliefs may not be enough to ignore him.