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Previewing fall camp: Quarterback

Every question about Clemson’s quarterbacks has been answered already, either last year or this preseason—except one. That one question has cautious optimism (with an emphasis on “cautious”) reigning as the predominant approach to the 2015 football season for Tiger fans.

Obviously, Deshaun Watson proved everything he needed to prove a year ago. As a part-time player who briefly waited his turn before struggling to stay healthy, he still was able to take the nation by storm. His performance in roughly half of the team’s schedule was scintillating, as his combination of pass-first proclivities and open-field athleticism proved too tough to tame for almost every opponent he encountered.

Then came the Georgia Tech game, the knee injury, and all hope seemed lost. Conventional wisdom said the star quarterback would miss some time during his sophomore season, but Watson’s unique ability to heal has him going through workouts even before fall camp commences. His recovery has been as remarkable as his early achievement.

If Watson can remain healthy, certainly he will be the sole option under center for the Tigers this season. His talent is unmistakable and unmatched throughout the rest of the quarterback depth chart. However, spring practice did provide a bit of a glimpse into alternative scenarios should something happen to sideline Watson for any length of time.

A year ago at this time, no one would have said anything positive about the prospect of a Nick Schuessler-led offense. The unheralded veteran had seen virtually no time on the playing field and had not exactly inspired the masses with his approach to the game. On occasion, however, things do change with opportunity, and Schuessler seems to have made a different impression under the new offensive regime.

Over the past few weeks, almost every member of the offensive coaching staff has praised Schuessler for his work in the spring as the man at the top of the totem pole. He captained the team quite nicely in Watson’s stead and, somewhat surprisingly, appears to be at least as viable an option as Cole Stoudt was at the end of last season behind Watson on the depth chart. This is an undeniable victory for the program, since the rest of the meeting room consists of a pair of true freshmen.

The battle between Kelly Bryant and Tucker Israel for the third-string quarterback slot might be the most intriguing position battle that doesn’t figure to impact the 2015 season much at all. Bryant has the build and athleticism to be a stud, but the finer points of quarterbacking are still a work in progress. Meanwhile, Israel has a slight build and less arm strength, but his mechanics and accuracy are more advanced than those of Bryant at this point.

Neither of these two players seems positioned to avoid a redshirt in 2015, barring injury. Should catastrophe strike, Bryant would be the choice to back up Schuessler at the present time, but nothing is set in stone as fall camp looms. Schuessler’s maturation over the offseason has certainly changed the whole dynamic of the quarterback position at Clemson heading into a critical year for Dabo Swinney’s program.

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