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Bears quarterback Jimmy Clausen played 69 percent of his team’s offensive snaps Thursday. (Getty Images)

Confident Jimmy Clausen eases Bears’ concerns

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SHARE Confident Jimmy Clausen eases Bears’ concerns

They saw a glimpse of it when Jimmy Clausen told them to be quiet, to stop jawing about the previous play Thursday and focus for a second. The fire settled back down as quickly as it came, and far less dramatically than the last time the Bears’ backup quarterback played a game at Soldier Field.

You remember Week 16: Clausen, starting for Jay Cutler, had his helmet knocked off when he was speared. He spiked the ball to the ground, jumped up and squared off, bare nose to helmeted nose, with the perpetrator, Lions defensive end Ziggy Ansah.

That glint in his eye was there, too, in Thursday’s exhibition game.

“He commands the huddle,” reserve tackle Charles Leno Jr. “But he has a fire underneath him. You don’t see it a lot on the outside, but when you’re in that huddle, and when he tells us to get on the next play or on the ball, you can see the fire. And I like that.”

Other Bears did, too, after their backup quarterback played most of their 27-10 preseason victory against the Dolphins.

No one will write sonnets about his 77.9 passer rating — or his 17-for-27 performance, which totaled 151 yards.

Clausen, too, watched the clock expire in the first half after Josh Bellamy couldn’t get to the left sideline on his out route.

But Clausen, who led the Bears to 17 points after replacing Cutler, was confident and competent.

After a poor start to training camp and an ugly Family Fest showing — he completed only one pass, and that was for negative yardage — it marked a significant leap.

Panic about the Bears’ second-string quarterback abated.

“I thought he looked more at ease than at any time I’ve seen him in the league,” said Greg Gabriel, the Bears’ former director of college scouting. “I think he’s got a confidence about himself now that he hasn’t had in a while.”

Clausen smiled with Cutler and offensive coordinator Adam Gase on the bench and led his teammates on the field. He smiled afterward, talked about getting a win and seeing smiling faces on the offense.

“Just getting out there and trying to get first downs and keep moving the ball,” Clausen said.

He played 69 percent of the Bears’ offensive snaps — more than any player outside the second-team offensive line — because undrafted free agent Shane Carden was the team’s only other option behind Cutler. Carden handed the ball off six times, never attempting a pass.

“He’s a young player,” coach John Fox said of Clausen. “It’s important he gets reps in the preseason. It’s time to hit it.”

Despite inheriting Cutler’s starting job for one week last season, Clausen won’t threaten the starter’s playing time, barring disaster. But his role as a serviceable backup — in a league increasingly pass-heavy — shouldn’t be overlooked.

“He’s a helluva player,” said Bears tight end Dante Rosario, a former Panthers teammate. “A lot of guys, they just get the opportunity, A lot of guys take advantage of that opportunity. And others for whatever reason, don’t.

“I think it was pretty clear (Thursday) that he was in control out there and taking it one play at a time. It wasn’t perfect, by any means, but we moved the ball on offense. …

“When you’re in camp you’re going to have ebbs and flows. You’re going to have ups and downs. But the real test is really when you get into a game situation, when the lights are on. That’s the ultimate test. He played well.”

Despite starting only one game since his rookie year, Clausen was comfortable Thursday.

“It was just awesome,” tackle Michael Ola said of Thursday night. “Because he was cool and he was keeping us cool. It was the first game — he’s got a new O-line, new parts. And anxiety, emotions, ebbs and flows. And he’s able to just settle us.

“We hash things out if things aren’t going right. He gives us the freedom to just talk to him about it.”

Credit his age — Clausen turns 28 next month — and the confidence that comes from good health. Twenty-three months years removed from right shoulder surgery that forced him to stop throwing for five months, Clausen said he feels as healthy as any point in his life.

On his third coordinator in as many years, he’s growing more comfortable with Gase’s offense, with the help of the other quarterbacks.

“We’re all in it for the first time,” Clausen said. “It’s been a hard time at different times when you’re in it, but I think we’re starting to get the hang of it. And starting to roll with it.”

It was a slow, steady roll Thursday night, but a roll nonetheless.

“Sooner or later, everything’s gotta click,” Gabriel said. “The light turns on.

“I think that’s what happening. I’m not going to say I trust him to be a starter. I think as backups go in the league right now, he might be where it’s at — that you can feel comfortable with him.”

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickFinley

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com

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