Reporting from Indianapolis — The top two quarterbacks at the NFL scouting combine both have something to prove.
Oklahoma's Sam Bradford wants to show his shoulder can handle the rigors of pro football.
Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen wants to prove he can shoulder the responsibility of being a leader -- and shrug off his reputation for being arrogant and smug.
"Some people say I'm cocky, I'm arrogant, I'm not a good leader, I'm not a good teammate," Westlake Village's Clausen said Saturday. "I think the people who are out there saying those things really don't know me as a person. I'm a humble kid who loves having fun with my teammates."
While acknowledging NFL scouts are focused on his ability to lead, Clausen writes off the negative perceptions of him as a byproduct of playing at a high-profile school.
"That comes with the territory of being the quarterback at Notre Dame," he 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."
The St. Louis Rams, who have the No. 1 pick and are in need of a quarterback, are looking at Clausen and perhaps even more at Bradford, the 2008 Heisman Trophy winner who came into the 2009 season as the favorite to be selected first overall.
But Bradford's junior season was anything but smooth. In the opener, he was driven into the turf by a Brigham Young defender and suffered a sprained right (throwing) shoulder that sidelined him for three games. He came back to beat Baylor, but the following week was crushed by a Texas tackler, this time suffering a shoulder re-injury requiring season-ending surgery.
Bradford, who like the other top quarterbacks will not be throwing for scouts at the combine, said his shoulder is fine.
"I think it checked out really well yesterday when I went through the team physicals," Bradford said. "No one found anything they weren't expecting to find."
He said his throwing sessions are beginning to increase in intensity and that his arm "feels great" after a recent workout that consisted of more than 100 throws.
"I'm really happy with where it's at," he said.
Clausen certainly has better numbers from last season, when he completed 68% of his passes for 3,722 yards with 28 touchdowns and only four interceptions. He directed four fourth-quarter comeback victories, the most in a season by a Notre Dame quarterback, and set a school record by passing for at least 300 yards in seven games.
It was an outstanding season for someone who in 2006 announced his decision to attend Notre Dame by arriving at the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, Ind., in a stretch Hummer limousine.
Notre Dame center Eric Olsen, also at the combine, defended his quarterback.
"I think he's misunderstood by a lot of people because 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," Olsen said. "As a teammate, he's somebody I would definitely want in the huddle with me in the future."
Asked to give an example of Clausen's leadership, Olsen said: "There's been numerous times in games where we might have been down, especially this year, late in the fourth quarter and guys, whether they want to admit it or not, were kind of rattled. He would come to the huddle and just take control and have that poise and be able to quiet everyone down and get everyone's full attention and go down and score a game-winning drive."
If there's a leadership question with Bradford, it's that he might be too low-key. That's an issue with the Rams, because current quarterback Marc Bulger is already that way.
In a telling juxtaposition, shortly after Clausen stood at the podium and brought up the notion of being "the face of a franchise," Bradford was asked about the same daunting challenge.
"I really don't think one single player is the face of the franchise," he said. "It's still a team game. There's a bunch of guys who people look to when they think of that franchise. If people want to put that on me, though, it's something I'll embrace. It's something I'll have to grow into, but I'll learn the ropes, just like I did when I was at Oklahoma."
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