There is no doubt the No. 1 question heading into fall camp for the Clemson Tigers will be who will replace Deshaun Watson at quarterback.
The candidates to succeed the two-time Davey O’Brien winner and Heisman Trophy Finalist are junior Kelly Bryant and freshmen Zerrick Cooper and Hunter Johnson. Bryant came out of the spring as the leader in the three-man race, but the Clemson coaches said Cooper and Johnson are not too far behind.
So what exactly is Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney looking for when camp begins on Aug. 4?
“At the beginning of fall camp they have to show me they have ownership of the system,” he said. “What we put in during the spring, they have to own that. If they don’t then they did not put the work in this summer and it will be very obvious, but I know that is not the case.”
Swinney feels all three quarterbacks have been “working their tails off” this summer and will be ready to compete when the Tigers get things started. However, whoever wins the job will have to show the coaches that he has great command of the offense and what they are doing.
Can he execute what they are asking him to do and does he have a great understanding of the run game? Does he make good decisions? Does he make others around him better? And does he provide the leadership and poise that they’re going to need.
“There are a lot of things that go into it,” Swinney said. “He has to get the job done and he has to be consistent. He can’t be a hot-and-cold guy. We have to have a consistent performer at that position so I rather have a guy that is a consistent performer than a guy that maybe has a little more talent, but he is hot and cold.
“You can’t win with those guys. That is all we are looking for. We will have a starting point when we get into camp.”
That starting point starts with Bryant, who has played in just 12 games—all in mop-up duty—in his first two seasons. However, Bryant has shown some flashes of what he can do here and there. He has four total touchdowns, including three on the ground. He had a 59-yard touchdown run against Miami two years ago and last year he had a 27-yard run.
In the spring, Bryant was the most consistent of the three quarterbacks competing for the job, something the coaches raved about during and after spring workouts. Cooper and Johnson had their moments, but Bryant was the same throughout.
“Kelly is going in as the first-team guy,” Swinney said. “He has earned that and definitely, today, he gives us the best chance (to win). We have a lot of work to do. We have a whole month of camp.”
Clemson kicks off the season on Sept. 2 against Kent State in Death Valley.
Hot off the Press!!! Have you ordered the 2017 Clemson season preview ‘Best is the Standard’ from the staff that covers Clemson football 365 days a year? Order yours today to make sure you get a copy!