Movin' on up

Clausen rides bike during agility drills

September 29, 2009, 8:49 PM

By: Eric Hansen

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Five hours after Notre Dame football coach Charlie Weis proclaimed starting quarterback Jimmy Clausen "back and ready to go," the convalescing junior didn't quite look the part.

At least this Tuesday afternoon, Clausen was way ahead of where he was last week at this time, when he didn't participate in practice at all because of a turf toe injury suffered Sept. 19.

This time, Clausen lobbed the ball around during the 45-minute media window, but when it was time for the quarterbacks to do agility drills, he hopped on a stationary bike and started peddling. Roughly half a dozen pro scouts looked on, as is typical on Tuesdays, but this time perhaps with a little more attention to No. 7.

The 6-foot-3, 223-pound junior has been quietly moving up the NFL draft boards -- the next NFL draft boards -- as has his opposite number in Saturday's upcoming clash at Notre Dame Stadium, Washington junior Jake Locker.

ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay has Locker second among draft-eligible quarterbacks for the April 2010 draft and the No. 7 prospect overall. Clausen is sixth among quarterback prospects.

McShay rates Oklahoma's Sam Bradford, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, as the No. 1 quarterback and top overall prospect. Mississippi junior Jevan Snead is the No. 3 quarterback, Texas senior Colt McCoy No. 4, Cincinnati's Tony Pike No. 5, and the 2007 Heisman winner, Tim Tebow of Florida, No. 7.

ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has Clausen ahead of Locker.

For Weis, the draft scuttlebutt in a quarterback's junior year is not a new experience, nor something he considers an unwelcome distraction. When Cleveland Browns quarterback Brady Quinn was a junior at Notre Dame in Weis' debut season in 2005, Weis supported Quinn's thinking and talking openly about his option of leaving early.

He'll do the same with Clausen.

"In Jimmy's case, if you move yourself up so high in the draft that it's an offer you can't refuse, then you have to seriously consider it," Weis said. "But I think that you never want to walk away from a Notre Dame education unless [an opportunity] to complete a Notre Dame education were presented to you.

"I'd love to have Jimmy here for this year and next year, but if he ends up playing so well this year that it warrants him making that decision, that probably will be a good thing for the success of our football team this year."

Clausen is fourth in the nation in passing efficiency a third of the way into the season, one year after finishing 43rd and two years removed from finishing outside the top 100.

Locker, meanwhile, is thriving in new Washington coach Steve Sarkisian's system. He also has a pro baseball option after signing a contract in late August with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim that, unlike the one former Irish receiver Jeff Samardzija signed with the Cubs, does not limit his pursuing football.

"I think that Jake's value is probably going to continue to rise as the season goes on," Weis said. "I think that [pro scouts] are watching a transformation going from him being a read-option quarterback to more pro-style offense quarterback, and I think that's only going to help up his stock and up his value.

"As far as Jake, I just know he just picked up $300,000 from the Angels, so I think he can take his time on what he wants to do because he has a couple of different options."

Locker, a center fielder in baseball, was a 10th-round draft choice of the Angels. Clausen's claim to fame with baseball? He won the homer-hitting contest at Weis' house at a team picnic this summer.

Squibs: Junior running back Armando Allen ran and cut well in Tuesday's practice after missing Saturday night's 24-21 victory at Purdue with an ankle injury. … Irish junior halfback Robert Hughes remains the No. 1 option at fullback while James Aldridge continues to recover from a shoulder injury. But Hughes' game-high 68 yards on 15 carries against Purdue running from the halfback position has Weis looking at him in a different light. "We'll list him as a starting fullback," Weis said. "In reality, he is really looking for halfback reps. Trust me, he wants the halfback reps." … Junior kicker Brandon Walker, ND's No. 1 option at that position the past two seasons until freshman Nick Tausch beat him out in August, missed Tuesday's practice to attend a doctor's appointment. Freshman running back Theo Riddick, ND's top kickoff returner, practiced Tuesday with his right wrist in a soft cast.

Eric Hansen covers Notre Dame for ESPNChicago.com and the South Bend Tribune.

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