What is the next step for Kelly Bryant?
In his first year as a starting quarterback, Kelly Bryant did better than most imagined he would. Many figured Bryant would just hold the place until Hunter Johnson was ready to take over the reins by the fourth week of the season.
However, it was obvious following Bryant gutsy performance in a win over Auburn that was not going to happen. After getting injured midway through the second quarter, Bryant returned just before halftime to lead Clemson on a 12-play, 88-yard drive, which he capped with a 3-yard touchdown run.
At the start of the second half, Bryant again led the Tigers on a long scoring drive, this time it was 79 yards in eight plays, again capped when he called his own number on a 27-yard run for the game’s final points.
From there Bryant’s confidence took off as he led Clemson to an 11-1 record in the regular season and then to an ACC Championship Game victory over Miami where he earned MVP honors in the Tigers’ 38-3 victory.
And though things did not go so well for Bryant and the Tigers in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama, advancing to the College Football Playoff and winning 12 games in your first season as a starter is nothing to be ashamed of.
Now the question is how can Bryant get better, especially with the competition heating up this summer with Johnson and the arrival of the nation’s No. 1 player out of high school, Trevor Lawrence?
Bryant finished the 2017 season completing 65.8 percent of his passes for 2,802 yards. He had 13 touchdowns and 8 interceptions while averaging 200.1 yards per game through the air. He also ran for 665 yards and was second on the team with 11 touchdowns.
Bryant did well throwing the ball out into the flats and on screens, and also did okay completing long passes down the field when he had the opportunity. Where he struggled was with his accuracy on throws 15 to 25 yards downfield.
He also, at times, gave up on plays too early, choosing to tuck the ball and run instead of trusting himself and letting the ball go. There were several instances when receivers were coming open downfield and Bryant did not let the ball go.
Granted, he got better at both as the season went along, especially when he opened the ACC Championship game by completing a championship game record 15 straight passes.
However, these are two areas Bryant himself said he needs to get better at, and he will work hard this summer to do just that. Bryant, like Deshaun Watson, is a film rat. He watches a lot of film on himself and critiques himself pretty harshly.
Unlike last year, Bryant will have a shorter rope to play off of despite having such a good first year in leading the Tigers to another ACC Championship. The coaches will be paying close attention to him and the other three quarterbacks—Johnson, Lawrence and Chase Brice—as they roll through camp in a few months.
It will be interesting to see just how much Bryant has improved, and how he handles the pressure of someone coming to take his job.