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INDIANAPOLIS -- Dispatches from Day 3 of the NFL's Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium ...
Of all the skills that NFL prospects trot out on display at the league's annual scouting combine, leadership isn't really one that can be easily measured or quantified. They don't have a workout event devoted to test for leadership in Indianapolis, squeezing it in-between 3-cone drills and the short shuttle.
It's thought of as something you either have or you don't, like any number of other traits that fall under that murky heading of intangibles. But teams definitely care about it, and because of it, Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen is getting something of a grilling here from NFL types.
"They want to know about it,'' Clausen said Saturday afternoon, moments after meeting the media in the combine press room. "They want to know it all. That's why I'm excited to be here and talk to them about the perceptions that are out there.''
And what would those perceptions be?
"Some people say I'm cocky, I'm arrogant, I'm not a good leader, I'm not a good teammate,'' Clausen said, summing up all his perceived negatives quite nicely. "But I think the people who are out there saying those things really don't know me as a person. I'm a humble kid.''
Clausen, the consensus second-ranked passer in this draft, behind Oklahoma's Sam Bradford, isn't throwing at the combine this weekend due to his recovery from surgery to repair two torn tendons in the big toe of his right foot. But he is still going on offense here, even if it's more of a public relations offensive, aimed at changing the image he may have cultivated at Notre Dame. It's an effort that apparently includes calling himself humble, which sometimes leaves the exact opposite impression.
Clausen had a pretty fair three-year starting career with the Irish, and the No. 1-picking Rams on Friday acknowledged he's one of four players under consideration to go first overall on April 22. But part of his rep centers on being a bit of the selfish and spoiled athlete, and thus NFL decision-makers are very interested in whether or not he has the maturity level they seek in a potential franchise quarterback.
Call it the Ryan Leaf Syndrome, but since the ex-Charger became the biggest draft bust of all time, nobody wants to miss any glaring warning signals when it comes to the flawed personality of a potential first-round quarterback.
Clausen was repeatedly asked to explain the cause of his leadership issues on Saturday, and to hear him tell it, the origin of the entire topic stems from playing in the "fish bowl'' that is Notre Dame, the "adversity'' he had to overcome in South Bend and the lack of people knowing him for the person he really is. I don't get a say in any team's decision to draft him, but I wonder if all of that will hit league executives as nothing more than a healthy dose of spin control? I didn't really hear much from Clausen on whether any of those perceptions are accurate, and if he intends to focus on making any improvements once he becomes a pro?
"That comes with the territory of being the quarterback at Notre Dame,'' Clausen said. "That's just the way it is. I'd like for them to get to know me as a person, one-on-one. At Notre Dame, the quarterback and the head coach get all the credit when things go right and get a lot of blame when things go wrong. It's a tough situation being in the fish bowl at Notre Dame.''
Clausen said playing in the pressurized atmosphere of Notre Dame will prove valuable to him once he's drafted in the NFL, because, "I'm going to be kind of the face of a franchise somewhere, and being at Notre Dame has definitely helped me do that.''
But what exactly will that face look like once it lands in the NFL? That's what NFL coaches and general managers are starting to piece together this weekend in meeting with Clausen. Is he too pampered, with an air of privilege surrounding him, or can he exude the same mature air of dedication and commitment to the game that scouts find so plentiful with both Bradford and Tim Tebow?
"I think they just want to see me up close and personal, and get a feel for me as a person,'' Clausen said. "They're cognizant of the perceptions out there. I'm just trying to go in there and answering the questions they have for me.''
There aren't any questions about Clausen's toughness. He played hurt last season after tearing his toe tendons in the third game of the season and took painkillers to play the rest of the Irish schedule. He also gets high marks for his accuracy, his ability to rally Notre Dame to comeback wins in the fourth quarter, and his experience playing in Charlie Weis's pro-style offense for three years.
Clausen told me he hopes NFL evaluators talk to his former coaches and former teammates about his leadership skills, like Weis, who is now Kansas City's offensive coordinator, and his fellow Notre Dame NFL prospects. Character witnesses, as it were.
"You have to go to the sources, and ask those guys what they view me as when it comes to being a leader,'' Clausen said. "To lead, you have to know the personality of different players.''
Irish center Eric Olsen defends Clausen as misunderstood. "A lot of people think he's this California kid that has a kind of off-attitude, but that's not the case at all,'' said Olsen, who's here at the combine. "As a teammate, he's somebody I would definitely want in the huddle with me in the future. He's a leader. Being the quarterback at Notre Dame, he's in the spotlight.
"I think he came in as a high school recruit in a limo and stuff. That might have thrown a couple people off. But they really don't know him. That's just from the outside looking in.''
But Clausen, Bradford and Texas quarterback Colt McCoy all made their way to the media room on Saturday, and in some ways, the juxtaposition of Bradford and McCoy's maturity level stood in stark contrast to Clausen's. Bradford demurred when asked if he was ready to be the face of a franchise, saying "I really don't think one single player is the face of a franchise. It's still a team game. But if people want to put that on me, though, it's something I'll embrace.''
Asked about the importance of leadership, McCoy struck the perfect tone: "Leadership is a tough word,'' he said. "It's hard to talk about it. A lot of guys can say things about it, but can't back it up.''
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