Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said on Tuesday that Clemson’s 15 bowl practices leading up to its College Football Playoff semifinal game against Ohio State at the Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 31 will be “huge” for redshirt freshman quarterback Zerrick Cooper.
Cooper, like the rest of what Clemson calls its “JV” players, will get plenty of work during practice in the coming days as the Tigers turn some of their attention to the future.
As a redshirt player, Cooper’s work during the regular season came on the scout team, and he hasn’t received true repetitions since fall camp. However, that will change in the next couple of weeks, as Clemson will dedicate a portion of each practice to preparing the redshirt players for next season.
“It’s huge for him,” Swinney said of Cooper. “He’s had very little work within our system outside of fall camp. But (because) you’re getting dialed in and you’re getting ready to play each week, his work has been mostly mental in meetings and virtual reality — he spends a lot of time in the virtual reality lab.
“That’s been good for him, but this is big for him to be able to go and go play.”
Swinney believes Cooper can greatly benefit from the live action he’ll see during bowl practice.
“He gets individual, he gets some one-on-ones and things like that,” Swinney said, “but to put it in and put it down in a team setting where he’s the guy out there managing the protections and handling the blitzes, making the right reads in his progressions — it’s a different animal, so it’s very important for him.”
The repetitions could help hasten the development of Cooper, who is expected to compete with Kelly Bryant and incoming freshman Hunter Johnson for the starting quarterback position in the spring.
Cooper is currently Clemson’s No. 4 quarterback, meaning he would enter next season as the No. 2 quarterback after the departures of Deshaun Watson and Nick Schuessler.
Swinney has been pleased with Cooper both on and off the field thus far in his career, and he credited Watson for helping Cooper along.
“Zerrick, for example, is doing very well,” Swinney said. “Off of the field, he’s doing well academically, and I think a lot of that is because of the standard in that room. Deshaun challenges those guys.”
Cooper was a highly touted four-star prospect at Jonesboro High School in Jonesboro, Ga. As a senior in 2015, he completed 161 of 267 passes for 2,039 yards and 21 touchdowns.