This time last year, Dabo Swinney had no idea who his starting quarterback was going to be.
When the Clemson Tigers left spring practice, he awarded Kelly Bryant the opportunity to run out there first with the first-team offense in fall camp, but he did not know how the Calhoun Falls, S.C., native would respond. At the time Zerrick Cooper and Hunter Johnson were on his heels and had just as much of an opportunity to become Clemson’s starting quarterback.
When camp opened, Bryant took off and by mid-camp, there was doubt he was the Tigers’ new quarterback.
“There is no question he made incredible strides from last spring to when he came back for fall camp,” Swinney said. “I really thought it was going to be really tight in August. I really felt like we were in for a real battle and it just did not turn out that way. He kind of went in and he separated.”
As it turned out, the competition was never really close. It was not as if Johnson and Copper did not work hard or came in unprepared. It’s just the simple fact Bryant worked harder and out worked them.
“He really worked his tail off,” Swinney said.
This year, Swinney promises he will have the same Kelly Bryant he had last year when the Tigers begin fall camp this Friday. Bryant will once again come into camp with a slight lead in a quarterback battle Swinney says is again tight, but this time Bryant will have an entirely different mindset.
“He has more experience. He has had some success, he has had some failure. He is very focused,” Swinney said. “This kid has thick skin because he has had to grind to get to where he is as a quarterback.”
This time around Bryant is trying to fend off talented freshman phenom Trevor Lawrence—the nation’s No. 1 recruit—along with redshirt freshman Chase Brice. Swinney indicated both guys closed the gap on Bryant in the spring and Swinney, right now, is contemplating using multiple quarterbacks or maybe a two-quarterback system.
“It will be quite a battle because, Chase and Trevor, they are not going to go away because these are two very talented and very dynamic young players that will come out there and compete,” Swinney said.
Swinney feels camp is going to be exciting because the competition is so close. However, for those counting out Kelly Bryant, he is not going to hand over his job to Lawrence or Brice freely. He is not built that way.
“Kelly has handled the pressure very well,” Swinney said. “You go back to last year. That kid made some big plays for us in some critical situations and he has not forgotten that. He made some mistakes too and missed some plays and things like that, but you are talking about a first-year guy so I expect he will be much improved.”
Quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter says Bryant has earned everything he done to this point, and he does not expect that to change at all this year.
“Kelly is the guy right now. Make no mistake about it. He has earned it,” Streeter said. “He is the guy that is going to go out their first especially in the beginning of preseason camp.
“He has improved every single semester that he has been here and he has earned that right.”
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