Kelly Bryant has been Clemson’s first-team quarterback all spring, and nothing has changed after the 99-play scrimmage the Tigers ran through in the Poe Indoor Practice Facility on Wednesday.
Bryant started off slowly but had a solid day overall, completing 7-of-13 passes for 91 yards. The junior hit on 4-of-5 passes, including a 39-yarder to Hunter Renfrow, on a late touchdown drive against the first-team defense.
Freshman Zerrick Cooper, meanwhile, went 4-of-8 passing with a 13-yard touchdown run.
“The quarterbacks played well,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “Kelly has been the number-one quarterback and is improving each day. He did not get off to a good start today, but he finished very strong, leading the number-one offense 70 yards for a touchdown.
“We continue to evaluate all the quarterbacks in all phases of the game. That includes the running game. Even though we don’t tackle the quarterback we can still evaluate their decision-making on the running game.”
Clemson’s coaching staff has said that Bryant has done nothing to lose the quarterback job to this point, though the others are pushing him.
Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott called Bryant’s performance during the scrimmage “positive.”
“There was a couple of plays I know he wants to get back, but procedurally he ran the system,” Elliott said. “From the sidelines it looked like his decisions were pretty good, but there were a couple plays, couple throws he probably wants to get back and make a little better. But overall, from what I could see and what I saw today, he’s making the right decisions, he just has to consistently continue to do that.”
As for Cooper, his demeanor impressed Elliott, who said he doesn’t look rattled despite his inexperience.
“The game’s still moving fast, but you’re starting to see a calmness in the pocket, a better understanding of where to go with the football,” he said. “His arm talent is through the roof — he’s got one of the best arm talents that’s been around here in a long time. He can make every throw, and he’s more athletic than I think a lot of people give him credit for. He’s deceptively got good speed.
“It’s not going to look like Kelly, it’s not going to look like maybe Deshaun (Watson), but he’s got an instinct about him, so he’s got a lot of natural skills. We’ve just got to build his knowledge base to where everything slows down so that he can let his talent take over.”
Speaking of sneaky athleticism, true freshman Hunter Johnson showed it as he extended several plays with his legs.
“You saw him escape the pocket, and not just escape the pocket but extend some plays and convert some third-and-longs with his legs,” Elliott said. “Definitely believe he has the athleticism, just have to continue to get him to a point where the game slows down.”
The scrimmage marked Clemson’s final practice before spring break. The Tigers will take 10 days off from practice before resuming workouts on March 27.
In the final seven practices of the spring including April 8’s Orange and White game, Clemson will continue to focus on developing its group of quarterbacks and improving their knowledge and command of the offense.
“That’s where Deshaun gave us a comfort level last year is he was in complete control of the offense,” Elliott said. “They’re young quarterbacks, and we have to make sure we step back and we’re not putting too much on their plate too quickly so that they can develop the adequate base knowledge to be able to get to that point where they can command the whole system.”