It may have been the first weekly press conference of the year, but Dabo Swinney was in mid-season form on Tuesday at the Allen Reeves Football Complex in Clemson.
Though in a good mood as his second-ranked Tigers get ready to host Furman on Saturday at Death Valley, Swinney was quick to defend his starting quarterback as well as letting everyone know how he feels about the program he has built in Tigertown.
Swinney said Kelly Bryant was the best guy coming out of fall camp in what was the best quarterback competition of his coaching career. The senior, who is 12-2 as a starting quarterback, “improved” as the Clemson coach put it.
Bryant was named the starting quarterback for the Furman game on Monday, just beating out freshman Trevor Lawrence.
“People get better,” Swinney said. “They improve. I don’t care where you start, they improve and that’s what has happened with Kelly. He has had a tremendous year of prep since January.
“I have had a front row seat. I had no idea how it was going to play out. Obviously, you bring a guy in here like Trevor Lawrence, who is off the charts from a talent standpoint. You don’t ever know how that is going to translate. Guys can be really talented in high school, but sometimes it takes a little longer to translate to this level.”
However, as Swinney admitted, that was not the case with Lawrence. The nation’s No. 1 overall player in the Class of 2018 has had little trouble adjusting to the college game.
Though there was a lot going on for the true freshman, he demonstrated this past spring he is a unique guy who has unique talent. He also absorbed the information that was thrown at him very well and he never got overwhelmed.
Though he made mistakes, he learned from them and he got better.
“Trevor did exactly what we thought he would do,” Swinney said. “He came back more in control of what was going on and had more knowledge of what was going on and a better knowledge base.
“Mentally he is in a good place and the game has slowed down for him. He had a great camp.”
But, according to Swinney, Bryant had a better camp. With Lawrence here, the freshman pushed Bryant to be even better and to do the things he needed to do to become a better quarterback.
“I’m really proud of Kelly because you have to have thick skin when you play quarterback,” the Clemson coach said. “You have so many people with their opinions and agendas. They don’t watch one practice. They don’t watch one tape and when they do they do not know what they are watching.
“He did a tremendous job. He just came out on top from a grade standpoint. Kelly was the most consistent and that is just where we are. Kelly has earned the opportunity to go start. Trevor has earned the opportunity to play and to compete.”
And Swinney has earned the right to defend his decision.