Clemson fans won’t have to wait much longer to find out who the Tigers’ starting quarterback will be for the team’s Sept. 1 season opener against Furman. The showdown betweeen Kelly Bryant and Trevor Lawrence has been at the forefront of the storylines surrounding Clemson football in the spring and summer months.
Dabo Swinney and his staff reportedly were planning to make a decision on Thursday, with the Clemson depth chart scheduled to be publicly released on Monday.
Bryant has expressed optimism that he’ll be the guy for the Tigers when the offense takes the field for the first time in the season opener. He has good reason to be confident.
Bryant hasn’t really done anything to lose the job during camp. He’s maintained the confidence of his teammates, who enjoy his happy-go-lucky personality. Bryant also has the confidence of his coaches, who saw him develop well over the course of the 2017 season.
Bryant worked through a midseason crisis when he was injured with a concussion in Clemson’s stunning loss at Syracuse last fall. He regained the starting role and re-positioned Clemson for a shot at back-to-back national championships with another ACC title and a third straight invitation to the College Football Playoff. And while Bryant will be the first to admit he didn’t play up to his capabilities in Clemson’s frustrating CFP semifinal loss to Alabama, the experience can only help him as he heads into his senior season.
Although Bryant has the clear advantage over Lawrence in terms of experience, Lawrence, the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect in the class of 2018, has been pushing Bryant hard throughout summer workouts. Lawrence’s unique combination of throwing touch, athleticism, and instincts made Lawrence a much more highly-touted high school prospect than the 3-star Bryant ever was.
The competition at quarterback can only be seen as a plus from the perspective of the Clemson coaches.
Stepping up to the challenge
Throughout spring workouts and training camp, Dabo Swinney and his staff didn’t have to wonder whether or not the Tiger quarterbacks were motivated to compete. With his career and legacy at Clemson on the line, Bryant has allowed the intense competition from Lawrence to serve as a motivator.
In turn, Lawrence has been learning from Bryant and adjusting to the speed of the college game. As a result, both quarterbacks are better heading into the regular season.
What is evident, even before seeing Clemson’s preseason depth chart, is that opponents will have to prepare for both Bryant and Lawrence. They bring somewhat different skill sets, with Bryant more of a scrambler, and Lawrence more of a true pocket presence and downfield passing threat. The Clemson coaches will make a point to get Lawrence early action, especially since he can play in up to four games and still maintain a redshirt season.
While the Tigers aren’t explicitly planning on redshirting Lawrence, the option may become a realistic possibility if Bryant plays well. If Bryant can maintain his stranglehold on the starting job, and the Tigers can get Lawrence some early playing time without burning an entire season of eligibility, it would make sense to try and redshirt Lawrence. But that scenario depends entirely on how well Bryant plays, and whether or not he gets hurt again.
If Bryant struggles or gets injured, Clemson will have no point but to rapidly transition Lawrence from the top backup to the main man. Bryant knows he has little to no margin for error – particularly early on. If he slips up in the least, it could open the door for Lawrence to take the reins. And if Lawrence does get on the field and performs at a high level, it will be difficult for the Clemson coaches to justify re-benching him.
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