No QB debate at Clemson: Kelly Bryant No. 1 on depth chart
Bryant, the returning starter, was first on the depth chart released by the Tigers on Wednesday with freshman Trevor Lawrence the backup. Bryant will have the spot heading into fall workouts where he hopes to build on his successful season as a first-time starter in leading Clemson to a 12-2 record including an Atlantic Coast Conference title and a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Some fans had clamored for the long-haired, strong-armed Lawrence to overtake Bryant, more of a run-first, dual-threat quarterback who did not put up the passing numbers of his predecessor, national championship winning quarterback Deshaun Watson. Lawrence, who was rated the No. 1 quarterback in last season’s recruiting class, surpassed several of Watson’s Georgia high school records.
Lawrence also had the better showing at last month’s spring game as the 6-foot-5 signal-caller from Cartersville High completed 11 of 16 passes for 122 yards – including a 50-yard touchdown to receiver Tee Higgins. Bryant was 8-of-15 passing for 35 yards.
Still, in Clemson’s biggest moments last year – the Tigers defeated five ranked opponents on the way to the CFP – it was Bryant running the show and Swinney has not seen anything yet to change his mind.
”Obviously, Kelly’s won a conference (championship) and taken us to the playoffs, and he’s got great experience,” Swinney said. ”The other guys are right there and battling.”
Behind Bryant is a paucity of experienced passers. Lawrence enrolled in January while fellow freshman Chase Brice practiced all last season but did not get on the playing field as a redshirt.
In January, it appeared the Tigers might have a glut of quarterbacks to work into practice until experienced backups Zerrick Cooper and Tucker Israel transferred. Hunter Johnson, rated the No. 1 pocket passer in the 2017 recruiting class by ESPN, announced his intention to leave, seemingly stuck behind Bryant this season and Lawrence after that.
Despite Lawrence’s strong spring, expecting him to step in and be productive immediately should Bryant get hurt is a tall order. Clemson’s lone, regular-season loss last year came at Syracuse after Bryant was knocked out of the game in the first half with a concussion. When Bryant returned in the next game, the Tigers began a six-game winning streak that concluded with a 38-3 win over Miami in the ACC title game.
Bryant ended last season with 2,802 yards passing, 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Clemson finished with 3,297 yards passing, its lowest total since 2010.
The Tigers reliance on the run and Bryant’s struggles at times to get the ball downfield on long passes left supporters accustomed to Watson’s pass all the time style – he threw for an ACC record 580 yards against Pitt in 2016 – antsy and eager for more deep balls.
Lawrence appears like an answer to those prayers.
”He’s a very poised young player,” Swinney said. ”He’s been exposed to a lot. He’s a kid that’s been starting since the ninth grade.”
Swinney has said Bryant and Lawrence will still compete throughout August camp and that No. 1 is always a fluid situation depending on work ethic and how well you play.
”It’s a very good situation,” he said.
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