There is a very good possibility Clemson could have a two-quarterback system when it kicks off the season against Kent State on Sept. 2 in Death Valley.
Though junior Kelly Bryant opens the start of fall camp on Aug. 3 as the No. 1 quarterback on the depth chart, it does not mean he will be the starter 30 days later when the Tigers open the new football season.
Quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter had already alluded to the possibility of using two quarterbacks, and head coach Dabo Swinney did not rule out it either when he spoke with the media earlier this week.
“I think we have to go with how it plays out. If guys deserve to play, you got to playing them,” the Clemson head coach said. “If it is just clear cut, then that is where it is. But if you have two guys that deserve the opportunity to continue to compete for the job, then you have to give them the opportunity to do that.”
Besides Bryant, freshmen Zerrick Cooper and Hunter Johnson are listed as co-No.2s, and Streeter said both have a good chance to be the starting quarterback. Streeter also said even if Bryant does not win the job, they will use him somewhere in the offense because he is too dynamic to have sitting on the bench.
“There is a reason the NFL has four preseason games, they have to figure it out,” Swinney said. “You can’t figure it all out at every position in practice. You just can’t. Sometimes, you just have to get guys out there and sometimes the lights come on and they kind of shut down a little bit. Some guys, the lights come on they rise up a little bit more.
“When the decision making is the most critical, you just find out a lot more. You try to create every situation that you can possibly create in practice.”
In the spring, Clemson’s coaches did that by going live with the three quarterbacks in three different scrimmage situations, including the spring game. Swinney said it helped evaluate all three quarterbacks better and it gave them the best chance to compete.
“All we can do is evaluate and grade the tape every day and hold them accountable and create competitive situations all the way through,” he said. “But about 10 days out, we have to hone in on two guys so the third guy is not going to get quite as many reps. We have to get three ready, but we have to get them sured up and ready to go. Then, depending on where we are with that, we will go from there.”
Swinney is sure some people will compare this year’s quarterback competition to the one Deshaun Watson and Cole Stoudt had in 2014. Stoudt won the starting job to start the season, but Watson still played in the first three games and eventually took the job from Stoudt after his performance in a near upset of then No. 1 Florida State in Tallahassee, Fla.
“It is similar in some ways, but it is really different,” Swinney said. “Cole was a proven three-year player. He played a ton of football and played some big-time winning football for us, including in critical situations. Deshaun had a long away to go physically. He broke his collarbone (in the spring). He was 180 pounds so he had a lot to do from April to August.
“So you have kind of a starting point and he just kind of went and got Cole. Cole did not do anything wrong. Then all of sudden, the pressure of that situation, we were to the point where we are opening up at Georgia. We are going to have to play the guy. We’re going to play him a couple of series. Chad (Morris) brought that do me and I was good with it.”
After the Georgia game, Swinney said they balanced things out a little more the next week against S.C. State, and then it just happened – Watson took the job from Stoudt at Florida State.
“It just kind of went that way for the team,” he said. “You can’t anoint somebody. You can’t say, ‘okay this is his job’ unless you don’t have anybody and guys are hurt or something like that. When you have a really competitive situation, you have to have it work itself out for the chemistry of your team, the culture of your team, the guy has to go and earn it. So we will see how it all plays out.”
Swinney is anxious to see where Bryant, Cooper and Johnson are at when they start practice on Aug. 3 “because it is going to be pretty obvious who has put the work in.” If they don’t have true ownership of what they did all spring and summer then that is sending Swinney a pretty loud message.
“I know all these guys have worked really, really hard,” Swinney said. “They all want to be the guy. The good news is they are good people. They want to go lead the Tigers, but only one of them is going to run out there, but they also know whoever runs out there has to perform at a high level and at a consistent level.
“It is not a life-time contract. Every week is an evaluation in every position and quarterback is no different. You don’t want them out there feeling like if they make a mistake they are going to get yanked out of the game. That is not what you want. But you have to have a good, fair process and we will have that. But if it takes playing two guys or three guys that is just where we are and we will go from there.”
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