Last spring, Clemson wasn’t really sure what its quarterbacks could do.
Though Kelly Bryant was a junior, he was not a proven player, yet. He spent his first two years at Clemson as a backup quarterback behind two-time All-American and Heisman Finalist Deshaun Watson.
Hunter Johnson was a 5-star recruit, but he had no experience at all at the college level. The coaches were not sure how he was going to respond, especially going up against one of the best defenses in the country.
To get his answers, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney made his quarterbacks live in a couple of scrimmages.
“I needed to get a feel for who they were when things broke down a little bit,” Swinney said. “That was a part of our evaluation last spring, and it has been this spring, but we just have a lot more working knowledge this spring then we did going into last year.”
This year, Swinney said his quarterbacks are not live in practices or scrimmages because he knows what he has already in three of his quarterbacks. Bryant led the Tigers to the College Football Playoff last year in his first season as a starter, while Johnson came in and played in mop-up duty.
Chase Brice was the scout team quarterback so they saw how he handled things under pressure as he went up against the best defensive line in the country on a daily basis in practice.
“I don’t need to make Kelly live to see what he can do. The same thing with Hunter, the same thing with Chase,” Swinney said. “I have seen enough. I know what they can do with their legs.”
The only quarterback the coaches came into this spring with no knowledge on how he will handle things when everything breaks down around him was true freshman Trevor Lawrence, who enrolled in school in January.
Swinney says he has been pleased with what he has seen out of Lawrence when he has to improvise.
“That is probably the most pleasing thing about Trevor, just his natural instincts to be able to extend plays,” the Clemson coach said. “He can move! That guy can run! You see that on tape, but because he is so such a big guy, I don’t think he gets the credit for his ability to run and escape and create.
“So he was the one guy where I was like ‘okay, let’s see.’ But the other guys I have a real good feel for what they can do with their legs. We have created a good system on how we practice and how we coach the defense as far as are ‘quarterback rules,’ if he is a passer in the pocket, if he is a runner on the edge or if he is a runner in the box on how we coach that so I think that is helping on both sides of the ball.”