Clausen finds advocate in KC coach
By Jimmy Hyams , UT Insider
June 29, 2004
Casey Clausen advocates who found it mind-boggling that the former Tennessee quarterback went undrafted have another member of the Clausen Fan Club.
His name is Al Saunders, offensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs.
After having Clausen in the Chiefs camp, Saunders likes what he sees.
“He's done a nice job,” said Saunders, a former Tennessee offensive coordinator. “In fact, he’s exceeded our expectations. We had varied opinions on Casey when we brought him in as a free agent.”
At the urging of Vols coach Phillip Fulmer, the Chiefs agreed to take a look at Clausen.
How much do the Chiefs like Clausen? Enough to tell two of their quarterbacks playing in NFL Europe they won't be needed at training camp.
“Casey is our fourth quarterback right now,” Saunders said. The top three are Trent Green, Todd Collins and Damon Huard.
In retrospect, Saunders is surprised Clausen went undrafted by NFL teams.
“When you play at the University of Tennessee, which in my opinion is one of the four or five best programs in America, and you win  games it’s hard to believe someone didn't take a chance on him,” Saunders said. “We were going to take him in the lower rounds, but we had a need in another position and we were able to fill it.”
Fulmer wasn’t the only person who endorsed Clausen. He got a strong recommendation from his agent, Leigh Steinberg.
“Leigh has represented a lot of quarterbacks and felt very strongly about him, and we liked him on film,” Saunders said. “Yes, I’m surprised he wasn’t drafted, but we’re happy that he’s here.”
Saunders said Clausen has done well in individual drills.
“His technique needs a great deal of work and improvement, but when he got into the team-work environment, when more people were on the field, the more the pressure situations seemed to be, the better his decisions became,” Saunders said.
“He’s a bit of a playmaker. He did some things we really like. He threw the ball very accurately while he was here. While we know he has a tremendous distance to travel before he closes the gap to be a real fine NFL quarterback, we really like what we’ve seen in him.”
The main knock against Clausen was lack of arm strength. It doesn’t compare to John Elway, but it’s better than Bernie Kosar.
“He’s not a real strong-arm guy,” Saunders said. “Neither is Trent Green or Todd Collins. Dan Fouts wasn’t a tremendously strong-armed guy in this offense. And Kurt Warner is not.
“We run the same style offense we ran when I was with the San Diego Chargers and St. Louis Rams. Accuracy is the most important quality of our quarterback. It’s not the strength of his arm. It’s not something we put a lot of value in because there are a lot of strong-armed guys tending bar right now that tried to play in the NFL.
“Casey’s arm strength is just fine for what we’re looking for.”
What Kansas City has done offensively in recent years is remarkable. The Chiefs have led the NFL in scoring each of the past two years. They led in 40 of 47 NFL offensive categories that are recorded, according to Saunders.
This season, the Chiefs return Green and will have a healthier Priest Holmes.
Saunders would like to keep Clausen as the fourth quarterback.
“He needs to develop during training camp and during preseason games,” Saunders said. “He’s got a long, long way to go.”
While Saunders helped install a Tennessee offense that still has some of the same principles from more than 20 years ago, he said there weren’t enough similarities in the Chiefs and Vols offense for Clausen to have derived any benefit.
“There is such a jump from college football to the NFL,” Saunders said. “What he was asked to do at Tennessee certainly helped him. What he’s got to do at this level is a dramatic jump.”
The next step for Clausen?
“We’ve yet to see him when a 300-pound defensive tackles are trying to rip out his jugular on the field so that will be a determination we’ll make down the road,” Saunders said.