Once upon a time, opportunity didn’t matter for Jimmy Clausen. The right place was wherever he happened to be. The right time was whenever he happened to be there.
The quarterback prodigy from Southern California was a four-year starter in high school who never lost a game he started (42-0). He turned down Pete Carroll and Steve Spurrier to play for Charlie Weis at Notre Dame. He started as a freshman in high school, as a freshman in college and as a rookie with the Carolina Panthers.
But four years after a dreadful experience with the Panthers that derailed his NFL career, Clausen is recovering from shoulder surgery and starting over at the bottom. Opportunity and timing now mean everything.
As the Bears’ fifth quarterback, Clausen, 26, is battling for an opportunity to battle for an opportunity to win a backup job behind Jay Cutler. He has a lot of catching up to do and little time to do it.
Clausen received precious few snaps in practice Wednesday at the Payton Center — working behind an offensive line of Charles Leno Jr., James Dunbar, Taylor Boggs, Ryan Groy and Cody Booth and throwing to Fendi Onobun, Micheal Spurlock, Josh Morgan, Ka’Deem Carey and Zach Miller.
Times have changed.
“I think that’s how everything works in life — right place at the right time,” Clausen said. “Everything is about timing and opportunities. And when you get that opportunity, you’ve got to flourish.
“I’ve been working hard, trying to get my shoulder 100 percent from surgery and waiting for my opportunity, and I have it now. I just have to keep grinding and keep competing.”
A lot could hinge on how much Clausen shows while Jordan Palmer, the current No. 2 quarterback, recovers from a strained pectoral muscle that kept him out of OTAs last week and this week. Palmer said he expects to return for next week’s minicamp.
“It’s a nothing deal,” Palmer said. “I’ll be ready to go for minicamp. Just letting it breathe. It’s frustrating because it’s not a serious injury. Just letting my shoulder rest.”
In an offense that made Josh McCown a millionaire, Clausen knows he has an opportunity to save his career. He learns quickly. But even if he’s at the right place, it remains to be seen if he has enough time.
“Just trying to learn the plays as quickly as possible,” Clausen said. “It’s a very unique offense. What I’ve seen so far . . . it’s a quarterback-friendly offense, which is great. I feel it fits me real well. It’s a great opportunity. I’ve got to keep studying and try to get up to speed as soon as possible.”