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Panthers QB Clausen supported ahead of first career start

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Jimmy Clausen and his phone haven't gotten much rest this week.

As the Carolina rookie crams for his first NFL start Sunday against Cincinnati, a steady stream of well-wishers and advice-givers has checked in. The list includes Charlie Weis, his old college coach, and Mark Sanchez, an old buddy who knows a thing or two about starting as a rookie.

Clausen hopes his connections and a heavy dose of preparation will help him jump-start the Panthers' ugly offense.

"It doesn't feel different. It's just getting more reps and that's a good thing," Clausen said Wednesday after his first practice since replacing the ineffective Matt Moore. "I have to get in there and get familiar with all the new stuff we're putting in."

The baby-faced, former Notre Dame star has had quite a week already.

On Monday, a day after a dismal 20-7 loss to Tampa Bay dropped Carolina to 0-2, coach John Fox made the switch to Clausen. Just a few hours later, Clausen got a call from Weis, now the offensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs.

"He was real fired up," a beaming Clausen said. "He called me and the first thing he said was, 'My day got brighter. Congratulations.' My family and his family have a close relationship."

Clausen celebrated his 23rd birthday on Tuesday, which included a phone call from Sanchez of the New York Jets. He and Clausen became friends growing up in California, and Sanchez last year became only the second rookie quarterback to win two playoff games.

"He was talking about some of the things he wishes he could have heard from somebody in his first start and going into his career," Clausen said.

Such as?

"We were just talking about watching tape and trying to get in with different guys," Clausen said. "Get in with the center and watch the blitzes. Get in with the receivers and watch different coverages and see what they see."

Clausen bolted from his locker to watch film after meeting with the media on Wednesday. He appeared more vocal and animated earlier as he worked with the starters in practice, something that wasn't lost on running back Jonathan Stewart.

"He's a little more focused on making reads and being more decisive, quick to the huddle and stuff like that, as any starter would be, I guess," Stewart said. "But you can definitely tell he's excited."

Clausen also faces a tall task as he tries to prove the rest of the league wrong for letting him slip into the second round of the draft.

He takes over an offense that has two touchdowns and eight turnovers. The running game hasn't been dominate like last year. The offense line hasn't protected well, and Carolina faces a Bengals team that allowed only one touchdown in a victory on Sunday against Baltimore.

The Panthers, who only dressed three receivers last Sunday, have no clear No. 2 option after four-time Pro Bowl pick Steve Smith. And Smith was limited himself in practice on Wednesday, although coach John Fox said his thigh injury was "nothing serious."

"The biggest thing is getting chemistry with Steve," Clausen said. "Matt was taking all the reps with Steve, so I think that is going to be the biggest thing is getting with Steve and getting our timing down. The few reps that we do have during the week have to be good, crisp reps."

Smith didn't speak to reporters on Wednesday, but the players who did seemed ready to buy into Clausen, who has been trying to say and do the right things after earning a reputation in college of cocky and arrogant.

"He's handled himself well," tight end Jeff King said. "I think he's been put in a position, drafted where he was, where he's had to handle himself on pins and needles sometimes I'm sure. But he's handled it great. He's going to get his shot."

That opportunity comes Sunday, in front of a home crowd that cheered when he came on in relief of Moore last Sunday, but is also frustrated with the Panthers' slow start.

"You love it. Obviously you are playing in the National Football League and you're starting," Clausen said. "It's a dream come true. But we need to get to work and get a win this week."

Notes: Rookie WR Brandon LaFell (hamstring) sat out practice after missing Sunday's loss. LaFell, who said it's an injury that's lingered since his pro day before the draft, vowed to practice Thursday. ... RT Jeff Otah (knee) remains sidelined. He's yet to practice since training camp began. ... DE Tyler Brayton (ankle) practiced on a limited basis.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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