With the news that Hunter Johnson was transferring from Clemson, it became abundantly clear that Trevor Lawrence is now Kelly Bryant’s top backup, and his heir apparent at quarterback for the Tigers in 2019 and beyond.
After releasing its preseason depth chart in late May, it’s abundantly clear that Bryant is heading into the 2018 season as the starting quarterback. With Johnson now gone, Lawrence is the clear-cut No. 2 for the Tigers, while redshirt freshman Chase Brice is the third-string signal-caller.
Can Lawrence supplant Bryant as Clemson’s starter in 2018, and how many games will he start?
If Bryant can manage to stay completely healthy – which is a big if given his running ability – as well as play up to his potential, Lawrence won’t start any games. Lawrence will be ready to take the field at a moment’s notice. But he’ll remain, for at least one more season, next in line.
Bryant only cracked 200 yards passing seven times in 14 games last fall, and surpassed the 300-yard plateau just once. But three factors played large roles in keeping Bryant on the field.
First, Bryant avoided bucketloads of mistakes, throwing just six interceptions.
Second, the Tigers kept winning, producing an 11-1 regular season and winning a third straight ACC championship and third straight trip to the College Football Playoff.
Third – and perhaps most prominent – was the fact that Lawrence and Johnson, despite their 5-star accolades as high school recruits, weren’t ready to replace Bryant. That’s not necessarily true now, as Lawrence, following a year learning the Clemson offense in meetings and on the field, is ready to go. Lawrence would be the projected starting quarterback just about everywhere else in the ACC but Clemson.
Bryant would have probably missed at least one game after taking a vicious hit in Clemson’s stunning mid-October loss at Syracuse. But the Tigers just so happened to be going into a bye week before placing Georgia Tech, and Bryant was able to return to throw for 207 yards and two touchdown passes in a victory over the Yellow Jackets.
The presence of Tee Higgins in the Clemson lineup will give Bryant and Lawrence a chance to improve their numbers in 2018. Clemson’s outstanding defense will produce plenty of three-and-outs, giving the Tigers favorable offensive scenarios. But the challenge is on Bryant not only to improve his numbers, but to redeem himself when it counts – in the postseason.
The Tigers are in an enviable position. They have, quite possibly, the top backup quarterback in America in Lawrence – a guy who would start just about anywhere else.
Bryant has earned the right to start for the Tigers his senior year. But if he slips up, or suffers a catastrophic injury, Lawrence will be positioned to step right in.
Lawrence likely won’t start any games unless Bryant struggles or gets hurt. But that doesn’t mean he won’t play a key role for the Tigers in the coming months.