On Monday, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney sat down his four quarterbacks—Kelly Bryant, Zerrick Cooper, Tucker Israel and Hunter Johnson—and laid out how they were going to go about spring practice.
In that meeting, Swinney told them Bryant was going to be the starter and it was his job to lose.
“Kelly Bryant is definitely the starter going into spring ball, but as I tell these guys all the time, there are no lifetime contracts,” Swinney said. “You have to be the best guy all the time. Deshaun (Watson) was the starter not because of what he did last week, but what he did every day in practice.
“You earn it every week. You earn it every day. Every game is evaluated, otherwise why do you grade the film. It all matters.”
Bryant and the others are vying to replace Watson, who is in Indianapolis, Ind., this week participating in the NFL Scouting Combine.
“Like (Swinney) said, the job is not fully won yet,” Bryant said on Wednesday before the Tigers opened spring practice. “There is still work to be done. We have guys out there, other quarterbacks, who are out there trying to compete. Being named the starter is pretty good, but I still want to make sure I make the most of this opportunity while I’m out there running with the ones or whoever I am running with.”
Bryant, or whoever becomes the starter, knows they are replacing arguably the greatest player in Clemson history. Watson was a two-time Heisman Trophy Finalist. He led the Tigers to their first national championship in 35 years and guided them to another national championship appearance. He also accounted for more than 10,000 total yards and 100 touchdowns, while going 32-3 as a starter.
“Mainly what I’m trying to do is be myself,” Bryant said. “I’m not trying to be Deshaun because he was his own self. I just want to be Kelly Bryant and try to be simple and go about things the way I look at things.
“I looked at Deshaun and I watched the stuff he did and I tried to incorporate it into how I manage and play my game. I’m not trying to be Deshaun. I’m just trying to be Kelly.”
And by trying to be Kelly, Bryant says he wants to be more of a vocal leader and help the younger guys such as Cooper and Johnson as much as he can. The former Wren High School star is entering his third season in Clemson’s offense.
“Being the most experienced guy out of the group, I’m leading by example and encouraging the younger guys and trying to help them out … I’m trying to take them under my wing and show them and help them while we are out there,” he said.
Knowing the offense does give Bryant an edge the other two don’t have. This is also his third spring at Clemson so he should know the ins and outs of the offense pretty well.
“I’m excited to see Kelly get the opportunity to run out there and see if he is ready to take that next step and lead this group,” Swinney said. “But we will give everybody an opportunity to compete and the best guy is the guy.
“Maybe it gets resolved in the spring, maybe it doesn’t. I have no idea. This is college football. You don’t get preseason games and all of that type of stuff.”
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