CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There was a white stretch Hummer limousine in the parking lot off the Carolina Panthers' practice fields Friday morning. For the record, it did not deliver Jimmy Clausen to his first NFL minicamp practice.
The limousine had nothing to do with Clausen. We don't know exactly what the limousine's purpose was or if it even involved the Panthers (the parking lot actually serves several businesses on Cedar Street). I didn't go out of my way to track down what was up with the limousine once I made sure of one thing.
“No, nothing to do with [Clausen] at all,'' a Panthers official said.
If you know anything at all about Clausen's past, that's rather significant. There is history there with him and white limousines, and things like that have created a rather unflattering portrait of a guy who puts himself above everything and everyone else.
That legendary story about Clausen arriving in a white Hummer limousine at the College Football Hall of Fame to announce his commitment to Notre Dame? It's never going to go away. It's part of the Clausen lore that has rubbed some people the wrong way.
But, had you watched Clausen on Friday morning, you would have wondered whether perhaps the portrait was wrong. Or you would have wondered if he's trying to paint a much different picture as he makes a new start.
I won't give you a detailed play-by-play account of Clausen's first practice. Let's just say he seemed to throw the ball pretty well and it was only one practice for a team that's coming together for the first time. But I will give you a detailed account of Clausen's other actions because they may be a lot more significant.
Hummer coincidence aside, this kid looked and sounded very humble.
“Just trying to be one of the guys,'' Clausen said.
“I had to bring him a 12-pack of Cactus Cooler (a soda that's not available on the East Coast), so I had to sneak that on the plane and bring it to him,'' Clausen said.
If this kid's cocky or full of himself, which has often been suggested in the past, you couldn't find a single glimpse of it.
“I can't wait to get to know all my teammates,'' Clausen said.
He went on and talked about his desire to be a team leader, how he's working on learning the playbook and he heaped praise on Matt Moore, who, at least for the moment, is No. 1 on Carolina's quarterback depth chart.
But let's face the facts. There is a quarterback competition in Carolina. Even John Fox, who doesn't publicly admit much, sort of admitted it.
“Right now, [Moore] is the No. 1 quarterback," Fox said. “Those guys will decide that, not me."
Fox is exactly right. What Clausen and Moore -- especially Clausen -- do over the next few months will decide who's going to be the starter come opening day. It's not like Moore has a ton of experience, but he did play well late last season after Jake Delhomme was injured.
That doesn't give Moore any huge advantage in the competition and Clausen has the potential to catch up in a hurry. He was a second-round pick, who many teams projected as a first-round pick. He also spent three years running Charlie Weis' offense, which is virtually the exact same thing Carolina coordinator Jeff Davidson runs.
I'd like to say, “let the competition begin," but it already has. It started Friday morning and the Panthers are going to be monitoring Clausen's every move -- and we're not just talking about how he executes plays. We're talking about he handles himself and if he shows he's ready to fit in and lead a team.
“He's a sharp guy,'' Fox said. “He picks things up very fast. He's sharp in football. I think that's key at the quarterback position. He's swimming right now. It's still new, new guys and you've got to get a feel for everybody. I thought he handled it well.''
It was only one practice, but the Panthers already must have had a pretty good vibe about Clausen. They wouldn't have drafted him if they didn't. Fox and general manager Marty Hurney are pretty meticulous in their pre-draft research and, anytime you take a quarterback, you're going to explore his history and personality pretty extensively because the guy might end up running your franchise.
You need to keep in mind Fox and Hurney had a little edge in this department. Fox is extremely close with Weis and once tried to add him to Carolina's staff. Weis knows Clausen better than anyone and you can bet he told Fox everything he knows about the quarterback.
It must have been pretty positive because you can sense a happiness from the Carolina brass. Hurney was glowing this morning, even more than usual, and it's not just because of his ruddy complexion. Fox seemed much more relaxed than usual.
Unlike the Hummer, this is not a coincidence and it has everything to do with Clausen. The Panthers suddenly feel much better about their quarterback situation than they did a week ago. That's no knock on Moore, who very well could end up as the starter.
But it's going to be Clausen who really drives this competition.
“The guys are faster, obviously a little bit bigger, but at the end of the day, it's just football -- going out there having a good time and executing plays,'' Clausen said.
Is he ready? No, no rookie quarterback is ready when he first arrives at minicamp. But the audition has begun.
If, in the next few months, Clausen shows he can make plays on the field, the Panthers might think Clausen is ready. If, in the next few months, Clausen shows he can grasp a locker room as well as a playbook, forget the limousine. If Clausen can convince the Panthers he really is a team guy, he might end up driving this franchise from the start.