Panthers' future bright with Clausen

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Left without a first-round pick in the 2010 draft, Carolina could only sit back and wait to see which players would drop to them.

The longer Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen lasted on the board, the more anxious and hopeful Carolina became. Just when it looked like Clausen would make it to the Panthers' turn in the second round, the 48th overall pick, the quarterback-needy Arizona Cardinals traded up to the 47th overall spot. Carolina's coaches held their collective breath.

Yet rather than opt for Clausen, the Cardinals drafted linebacker Daryl Washington, who starred at TCU, the same school that produced the Panthers' new president, Danny Morrison. TCU had come through twice for Carolina -- once for its off-field leadership, once for its potential on-field leadership.

Four months later, Carolina is just as thankful. To steal a popular phrase from Arizona, Clausen is who the Panthers thought he was. He is poised, polished, popular and will be ready to perform for the Panthers if and when starting quarterback Matt Moore doesn't. Carolina's offense is similar to Notre Dame's and Clausen already knows roughly 80 percent of it.

The job is Moore's for now, and as long as he plays well, it will continue to be his.

"Matt Moore is good," Steve Smith said. "He's going to be great."

But Moore also is on a one-year contract, worth slightly more than $3 million, so his deal will be up after this season. One way or another, Clausen's time is coming.

Clausen's selection also was symbolic of the way this year's draft went for Carolina. When the Panthers needed help, other teams bailed them out. Other teams passed up players that the Panthers pounced on.

Clausen was projected as a first-round pick, possibly even a top-10 pick, before sliding to Carolina's second-round pick, 48th overall.

LSU wide receiver Brandon LaFell was projected as a second-round pick before dropping to the 78th overall pick, Carolina's spot in the third round.

Even Mississippi defensive end Greg Hardy, who could have gone in the first or second round had he come out after his junior season, and Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike, who was thought of as a mid-round pick, fell into the sixth round, where they became Panthers property.

Without other teams' decisions, the Panthers' future would not be as bright as it is today. But in a way, it's only fitting.

In recent seasons, the Miami Dolphins have inadvertently stuck it to the Panthers twice. The first time came when they passed up the chance to sign free-agent quarterback Drew Brees, leaving him to sign with the Panthers division-rival Saints. The next time came when the Dolphins bypassed Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan with the No. 1 pick, leaving him to fall to the third overall pick and the Panthers other division rival, the Falcons.

In a quarterback-driven league, it's not easy competing in the same division with Brees and Ryan. Thanks in part to other teams decisions, Carolina can.

Other observations from Panthers camp:

• Smith caught passes from a JUGS machine Saturday for the first time since breaking his arm twice in the past year. When asked if there were any question whether he'll be able to play the Panthers' regular-season opener against the Giants, Smith responded: "The only question is, 'What time does the game start?' That's the only question. Because I'll be suited up."

• Running back Jonathan Stewart practiced Saturday for the first time since undergoing offseason foot surgery.

• Carolina has had an indirect hand in the Darrelle Revis holdout. Back in 2007, Carolina traded the 14th overall pick to the Jets for the 25th overall selection and a second-round pick, 59th overall. New York drafted Revis, and Carolina landed linebacker Jon Beason in the first round and center Ryan Kalil in the second round. Amazingly, each of the three players involved in the deal has been selected to at least one Pro Bowl.

• While LaFell is likely to wind up winning the starting wide receiver job opposite Steve Smith, Armanti Edwards will take longer to develop. But the Panthers knew this. They still think that in the long run Edwards will be a significant contributor. But it will take time.

• There aren't many running backs good enough to get DeAngelo Williams and Stewart off the field. But don't be surprised if the Panthers use running back Mike Goodson on third downs in much the same way the Chargers once used the versatile and talented Ronnie Harmon.

• Williams and Stewart bring out the best in each other on and off the field. On the field, they feed off each other. Off the field, they were engaging, entertaining and the single best interview of this bus tour.

Julius Peppers had 81 sacks in his career in Carolina. Carolina's 12 defensive linemen have combined for 35 career sacks. But hope is not lost. Led by Tyler Brayton and rookie sixth-round pick Greg Hardy, Carolina had six sacks in the first three and a half quarters of the preseason opener against the Baltimore Ravens.

• It sounds like Panthers offensive tackle Jeff Otah will miss another couple of weeks with his knee injury, but he is expected back in time for Carolina's regular-season opener against the Giants.

• Panthers coach John Fox lost 30 pounds this offseason and looks noticeably thinner. How'd he do it? The same way anyone would -- diet and exercise. "It was simple," Fox said. "But it wasn't easy."

• Fox is one of the league's top head coaches. Enjoy him. It is widely expected that this season will be his last season in Carolina.

Adam Schefter is an ESPN NFL Insider.