• Of all the skills that NFL prospects trot out on display at the league's annual scouting combine, leadership isn't really one that can be easily measured or quantified. They don't have a workout event devoted to test for leadership in Indianapolis, squeezing it in-between 3-cone drills and the short shuttle.
It's thought of as something you either have or you don't, like any number of other traits that fall under that murky heading of intangibles. But teams definitely care about it, and because of it, Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen is getting something of a grilling here from NFL types.
"They want to know about it,'' Clausen said Saturday afternoon, moments after meeting the media in the combine press room. "They want to know it all. That's why I'm excited to be here and talk to them about the perceptions that are out there.''
And what would those perceptions be?
"Some people say I'm cocky, I'm arrogant, I'm not a good leader, I'm not a good teammate,'' Clausen said, summing up all his perceived negatives quite nicely. "But I think the people who are out there saying those things really don't know me as a person. I'm a humble kid.''
Clausen, the consensus second-ranked passer in this draft, behind Oklahoma's Sam Bradford, isn't throwing at the combine this weekend due to his recovery from surgery to repair two torn tendons in the big toe of his right foot. But he is still going on offense here, even if it's more of a public relations offensive, aimed at changing the image he may have cultivated at Notre Dame. It's an effort that apparently includes calling himself humble, which sometimes leaves the exact opposite impression.
Clausen had a pretty fair three-year starting career with the Irish, and the No. 1-picking Rams on Friday acknowledged he's one of four players under consideration to go first overall on April 22. But part of his rep centers on being a bit of the selfish and spoiled athlete, and thus NFL decision-makers are very interested in whether or not he has the maturity level they seek in a potential franchise quarterback.
Call it the Ryan Leaf Syndrome, but since the ex-Charger became the biggest draft bust of all time, nobody wants to miss any glaring warning signals when it comes to the flawed personality of a potential first-round quarterback.
Clausen was repeatedly asked to explain the cause of his leadership issues on Saturday, and to hear him tell it, the origin of the entire topic stems from playing in the "fish bowl'' that is Notre Dame, the "adversity'' he had to overcome in South Bend and the lack of people knowing him for the person he really is. I don't get a say in any team's decision to draft him, but I wonder if all of that will hit league executives as nothing more than a healthy dose of spin control? I didn't really hear much from Clausen on whether any of those perceptions are accurate, and if he intends to focus on making any improvements once he becomes a pro?
"That comes with the territory of being the quarterback at Notre Dame,'' Clausen said. "That's just the way it is. I'd like for them to get to know me as a person, one-on-one. At Notre Dame, the quarterback and the head coach get all the credit when things go right and get a lot of blame when things go wrong. It's a tough situation being in the fish bowl at Notre Dame.''
Clausen said playing in the pressurized atmosphere of Notre Dame will prove valuable to him once he's drafted in the NFL, because, "I'm going to be kind of the face of a franchise somewhere, and being at Notre Dame has definitely helped me do that.''
But what exactly will that face look like once it lands in the NFL? That's what NFL coaches and general managers are starting to piece together this weekend in meeting with Clausen. Is he too pampered, with an air of privilege surrounding him, or can he exude the same mature air of dedication and commitment to the game that scouts find so plentiful with both Bradford and Tim Tebow?
"I think they just want to see me up close and personal, and get a feel for me as a person,'' Clausen said. "They're cognizant of the perceptions out there. I'm just trying to go in there and answering the questions they have for me.''
There aren't any questions about Clausen's toughness. He played hurt last season after tearing his toe tendons in the third game of the season and took painkillers to play the rest of the Irish schedule. He also gets high marks for his accuracy, his ability to rally Notre Dame to comeback wins in the fourth quarter, and his experience playing in Charlie Weis's pro-style offense for three years.
Clausen told me he hopes NFL evaluators talk to his former coaches and former teammates about his leadership skills, like Weis, who is now Kansas City's offensive coordinator, and his fellow Notre Dame NFL prospects. Character witnesses, as it were.
"You have to go to the sources, and ask those guys what they view me as when it comes to being a leader,'' Clausen said. "To lead, you have to know the personality of different players.''
Irish center Eric Olsen defends Clausen as misunderstood. "A lot of people think he's this California kid that has a kind of off-attitude, but that's not the case at all,'' said Olsen, who's here at the combine. "As a teammate, he's somebody I would definitely want in the huddle with me in the future. He's a leader. Being the quarterback at Notre Dame, he's in the spotlight.
"I think he came in as a high school recruit in a limo and stuff. That might have thrown a couple people off. But they really don't know him. That's just from the outside looking in.''
But Clausen, Bradford and Texas quarterback Colt McCoy all made their way to the media room on Saturday, and in some ways, the juxtaposition of Bradford and McCoy's maturity level stood in stark contrast to Clausen's. Bradford demurred when asked if he was ready to be the face of a franchise, saying "I really don't think one single player is the face of a franchise. It's still a team game. But if people want to put that on me, though, it's something I'll embrace.''
Asked about the importance of leadership, McCoy struck the perfect tone: "Leadership is a tough word,'' he said. "It's hard to talk about it. A lot of guys can say things about it, but can't back it up.''
Backing it up is the challenge facing Clausen as the 2010 draft season kicks into overdrive. His intangibles are more on trial than his physical skills. He has to overcome the questions that exist about his leadership, and a useful first step would be to stop citing his collegiate surroundings and the bar of expectations that accompany Notre Dame football as the mitigating factors behind the doubts.
If only he could whip through all of that as easily as a three-cone drill.
• You'd think after Drew Brees won the Super Bowl MVP earlier this month, we wouldn't have to focus like a laser on a quarterback's height any more. But no such luck. McCoy was asked and reported his exact height from the combine as 6-1¼, and I suspect those quarter-inches are still a big deal in league circles.
"My height's a knock,'' McCoy said. "It is. Six-one and a quarter, that's what God gave me and I'm going to use it the best I can. I'd like to say 6-4, but this is what God gave me.''
For obvious reasons, McCoy's game has been compared to Brees more than once this season. "I hope you guys can see that, because I see that,'' McCoy said, mentioning Brees scaling the NFL's mountaintop despite his lack of physical stature.
• I made sure to ask Jets head coach Rex Ryan if he was still as optimistic about making a player out of his personal project -- outside linebacker Vernon Gholston -- as he was at last year's combine? Gholston, the sixth overall pick in 2008, had just nine solo tackles in '09, with two tackles for loss and two quarterback hits. But that was a big step up from his rookie season, when he had just one solo tackle and was inactive for a number of November/December games.
"That's still a work in progress,'' said Ryan, who last year in Indy said he would take Gholston under his wing and hopefully make a player out of the former Ohio State star defensive end. "But I will say this: When we're going back and looking at our cut-ups, this young man deserves a better chance than we're giving him. We need to give him more playing time. When Calvin Pace was out for the first four games last year, we were 3-1, and I thought Vernon played really well.
"You know he's got it in him. You've got to be patient. He's entering his third year right now, so I think it's more incomplete right now. I can't say that I was right about thinking that he'd make an impact, because the impact wasn't there last year.''
Ryan agreed the 2010 season will be make-or-break time for Gholston. "I think that's an accurate statement,'' Ryan said. "Generally by the third year, you've got to see a guy really making strides.''
• The Rams had to love hearing that Bradford was capable of throwing more than 100 balls in his most recent throwing session, with intensity. The ex-Sooners quarterback is still recuperating from surgery to his throwing shoulder, but says he's making throws of 20 to 40 yards, with something on the passes. He estimated he's at 85 percent these days.
"I'm putting as much as I can on it,'' Bradford said. "I feel like if you want to get your arm stronger, that's what you've got to do. I've gotten stronger every time that I've thrown, and it feels really good right now. No discomfort.''
Bradford won't throw Sunday in the quarterback workout, but he sounds like he's easily on track to throw at his March 25 pro day at OU.
• Bradford was great Saturday on the topic of whether he's at a disadvantage in the NFL as a former spread-offense quarterback. He pointed out that even in the shotgun, he takes a three-step drop and said that Oklahoma made him take the first snap of every practice under center.
"I think people get this misconception that if you play in the spread or play in the shotgun, you don't know how to take a drop,'' Bradford said. "It just shortens your drop. I'm very comfortable with throwing under center. It's something I've done since I've been in college, going back to high school. It's nothing new to me.''
• Mississippi running back Dexter McCluster stands just over 5-8, and weighs only 172 pounds. But he might be one of the bigger play-makers in this draft. And he's not afraid to draw a little attention to himself.
"I want to show people that there is something different about me,'' said McCluster, who was quite the hit in his media session. "Just don't look at my stature. I don't care how big or how small you are, I'll come at you. I'm not afraid of nothing or nobody.''
McCluster predicted that he'll run in the 4.3 range on Sunday, and said he plans to work out as both a running back and receiver. He's also a special teams threat, and has drawn interest from NFL teams as a kickoff and punt returner.
If McCluster can convince NFL coaches that he can handle the blitz pickup duties that he'd have at running back, he could emerge as the closest thing to either Reggie Bush or Percy Harvin in this draft -- an undersized but explosive playmaker.
"A lot of teams aren't really talking about the weight or height situation,'' McCluster said. "A lot of them are saying, 'We really don't care. You're a playmaker. You play football. Your game speaks for itself.'"