Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said Thursday that the annual Orange & White spring game on Saturday will be 100-percent live, meaning the quarterbacks will be fair game for Clemson defenders who will be allowed to hit and tackle them to the ground.
Swinney and his staff know that letting the quarterbacks go live is a double-edged sword. It’s a plus in the evaluation process as the coaches get another opportunity to see how the signal-callers handle defensive pressure, their ability to extend plays, pocket presence and game management among other traits.
At the same time, they know live action with the quarterbacks increases risk of injury.
Because of how competitive the quarterback battle has been this spring, the Tigers are willing to take that chance in order to better evaluate their options as the spring wraps up and they head into the summer and fall camp.
“It is a tough decision, and I think had the circumstances been different and it wasn’t such a close battle, you might air on the side of not being live with those guys,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said after Clemson’s final practice before the spring game. “But when you’ve got three guys legitimately vying for the spot and it’s close, you need that live evaluation to see who’s going to be the guy when the live bullets are coming at them. You know they’re getting hit — who’s going to make the plays that need to be made?”
Clemson’s quarterbacks also went live in a full scrimmage last Wednesday and a mini-scrimmage Monday.
Swinney had previously said Monday that they were not planning to go live with the quarterbacks for the spring game.
Though there’s no way to track it officially, Clemson sports information director for football Tim Bourret said he knows the Tigers went fully live in 1992 and it’s the last time they can tell the quarterbacks were live for a spring game.
“That’s something that we talked about and they really wanted to do,” Swinney said, “so that’s how we’re going to do it.”
First-team quarterback Kelly Bryant suffered a hamstring injury earlier this week. Elliott said he tweaked it on a designed quarterback run, but he expects the rising junior to be available Saturday.
“I believe so,” Elliott said. “He came out today and didn’t notice much of a limp and he was encouraged. He’s on my team, so I hope’s he going to play. That’s why I picked that team, but that’s why I was hoping I got that offense because I had Kelly. But he was shot out of a cannon, designed quarterback run. He hit it and just tweaked it a little bit, and I don’t think it was as bad. I think it was just more precaution just trying to make sure we can get him to the game.”
Looking back on spring practice, Elliott said he has noticed significant growth in the young group of quarterbacks’ confidence, leadership and ability to command Clemson’s offense.
Still, he thinks the quarterback position is Clemson’s biggest question mark heading into the spring game.
“I think the quarterback is the biggest position because everybody looks at that position and that’s the leader of our offense, and rightfully so,” he said. “And there’s three guys vying for that spot. I think that at running back, you can get away with playing three guys, two guys. I think at quarterback, you kind of want to have that — and some guys have done dual-quarterback systems — but most of the time you just want to have that one guy that takes the reigns. So I think that’s the biggest position.”