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Notre Dame Postcard

Irish still have eyes on three quarterbacks ... for now

Posted: Sunday August 12, 2007 3:42PM; Updated: Tuesday August 21, 2007 6:49PM
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By Brian Hamilton, Special to SI.com

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Roughly midway through a public Saturday morning workout at Notre Dame Stadium, the Fighting Irish offense approached the line of scrimmage near the north end zone, readying for another minimal-contact play against a scout-team defense.

Of eye-dilating importance to the hundreds of fans in attendance, and to the legions of Notre Dame faithful elsewhere, prized freshman quarterback Jimmy Clausen barked the signals and took every snap. In reality, this was sound and moderated fury signifying nothing; apparently, of the three quarterbacks contending for the Irish's starting job, it was merely Clausen's turn to run the team during this practice period.

Then, in an almost comical coincidence, a Notre Dame assistant -- it was difficult to tell which one, as reporters were being shuffled off the field and to the press box for the second half of practice -- for some reason bellowed to the players: "Don't look at the quarterback!"

In the context of Notre Dame football these days, the command might as well have been "Stop breathing oxygen!" or "Consider this a tennis school!" Other positions offer plenty of questions, but no one's focus deviates too long before returning to the quarterback quandary, where Clausen, junior Evan Sharpley and sophomore Demetrius Jones are vying for the Irish gig.

The intensely interested parties include Irish coach Charlie Weis, who Saturday (and evidently every day before it) devoted almost all of his practice attention to the position. It's no insignificant sign: Weis stated on the first day of preseason workouts that the identity of the quarterback shapes what the Irish will do on offense, and not vice-versa.

And after the first week of drills ended Saturday, Weis sounded a mildly optimistic note on the position. "I think we'll be good enough to win -- that's what I've learned," Weis said. "That's the biggest question mark that the guy who's directly responsible for the position has to worry about. But what I've learned is we'll be good enough to compete to win."

By early this week, Weis could determine if any one of the contenders has separated himself from the others, even though he said he doesn't plan on revealing the starter before the Sept. 1 opener against Georgia Tech.

A cut-down may be necessary to have any idea how to move forward, considering the candidates are equally unproven but not equivalently skilled. There is Clausen, the classic pocket passer; there is Jones, a swift run-and-pass threat; and in the middle of the spectrum sits Sharpley, who threw two passes as Brady Quinn's backup in 2006.

During Saturday's open workout, nothing but personal space separated the trio. In two potentially telling practice periods of full contact, each quarterback received the exact same amount of offensive reps. Each made nice throws and head-scratching errors. It reinforced what Jones pointed out earlier in the week: Would any questions be asked if Weis was truly certain about the position?

"If it wasn't that close, I'm quite sure he would have named a starter," Jones said. "That's the process. It's probably going to be a tough decision. And then when it comes out, even if it's not who you want it to be, we could never regret anything or say that we all didn't get a fair chance. Because as far as reps and treatment, we're all getting the same thing."

But judging by Weis' timetable, probably not for long.

Three Observations

1. Whether Weis was willing to concede the point or not -- and Saturday, he wasn't -- Clausen didn't appear to throw very hard and for sure didn't throw very far the entire workout. It may be significant due to offseason hubbub surrounding a reported elbow procedure the vaunted freshman underwent, something that has gone unacknowledged by Notre Dame to date.

And it may mean absolutely, positively nothing, since Weis had his quarterbacks on that rotation -- in other words, it was Jones' and Sharpley's day to throw 1-on-1 routes to receivers, Clausen's to run 9-on-7 offense. When it was pointed out that Clausen didn't throw a deep ball all practice (Jones and Sharpley threw at least one each), Weis replied cryptically, "Can he throw the ball deep? I think we'll have to wait until Sept. 1 to find out." Add that ingredient to the bubbling mystery.

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