The quarterbacks were very much a mixed bag today, and each had their share of ups and downs throughout the scrimmage. For now, it’s safe to say that the battle remains pretty heated heading into the summer. For Kelly Bryant, it's easy to see his athleticism once he escapes the pocket, finishing the day as the Orange Team’s leading rusher with 66 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown for the Orange. His presence alone is enough to sneak safeties up, which is how he was played for much of the game. There were plenty of instances in which he was able to escape the pocket and pick up positive yards thanks to his size and shiftiness. He’s definitely got the athleticism you’re looking for. His passing, however, does remain a major question mark, as he went 4-13 for 43 yards and an interception, failing to do much to inspire confidence the passing game, though this could also be largely affiliated to gaining rapport with his receivers. (*Note: it was revealed that he tore tendon at the beginning of the game on the first play, so how much this may have factored into his passing ability remains to be seen).
Zerrick Cooper was the one who drew the most interest out of all the QBs, given it would be his first spring game and his similar measurables to Bryant in terms of size and arm strength. The white team QBs were under pressure for most of the game, and Cooper was along here. He made some nice throws in and out if the pocket and led a drive in the 4th to put the White within five, which included a great leaping throw nabbed by Cornell Powell to set up an Adam Choice touchdown run. He finished 11-18 for 81 yards and an INT. Cooper got the chance to showcase his arm strength and some mobility, though it’s clear he’s still got some progress to make to clinch the starting job. However, he’s the closest out of the other four.
True Freshman Hunter Johnson flashed here and there, but by and large had the freshman moments that should be expected. He ended the day going 5-13 for 48 yards with a touchdown and an interception. The center did not have the best snap exchanges for most of the day, which often put Johnson in bad situations given the pressure he was under all day. His lone touchdown pass was a spectacular throw in the corner of the end zone to Diondre Overtone to put the White on the board when they were trailing 13-0, which was set up thanks to a PI call. It's easy to see he is still getting acclimated to the offense and speed of the game. Of course, as he picks up more of the offense and the game slows down, he could factor in later down the road. However, as it stands right now, he’s not quite ready for the big time just yet.
Tucker Israel was a bit of a pleasant surprise, as he had the best day of all the quarterbacks, going 13-19 for 94 yards and touchdown and an interception. His scoring drive, which culminated in a touchdown pass to Trevion Thompson, wound up being the deciding factor in propelling the Orange Team to victory. Israel put the other quarterbacks on notice a little, but don’t expect this to necessarily carry over into the quarterback battle. Every spring, one of the lower-string quarterbacks always has a decent spring game (remember Morgan Roberts?). This could easily be chalked up as a spring scrimmage flash in the pan, but unless Israel starts taking first-team reps from the other three, this isn’t really one to read too much into.
Given the performances by the quarterbacks today, there's little doubt that, if Clemson played Kent St. right now, Bryant would be the starter. He hasn't done enough to lose the job, but not quite enough to create a huge amount of separation from the other young passers either, both of whom showcased plenty of potential.
When it comes to the backfield, CJ Fuller was a pleasant surprise at running back, finishing with 51 yards on 13 carries. He hit the hole with more authority and confidence than last season and looks to still be a pleasant receiving threat out of the backfield. He was very underrated as a pass protector last season, and much of his increased PT last season was thanks to his work in pass protection. He doesn’t have a lot of flash and he’s not going to wow any on-lookers with speed, but he shows patience and consistently churns out yards. That’s a good sign for a running back stepping up to replace the departed Wayne Gallman.
Feaster also looks more confident running between the tackles, finishing with 21 yards on only five carries in addition to fielding kicks and punts. Pass protection still remains a work in progress. Swinney has shown that pass protection and catching out of the backfield will get you on the field, so if Feaster shores up that part of his game and continues making progressions, he could become a bigger factor on offense as well.
In terms of a running game, expect more of a backfield-by-committee approach, though there's little doubt that Fuller is the starter at this point and time. How much time Feaster gets will depend on his ability and willingness to block in pass protection.
The receivers are young but athletic and brimming with potential. Diondre Overton and Cornell Powell should make big gains in year two, having received some good experience last season. Ray-Ray McCloud looks as good as ever, showing his versatility to play all over the field and flashing his speed. Though Cain didn't factor in much, fans are well aware of what he can do. Renfrow is Mr. Reliable as ever and should lead the team in receptions this year.
A young but deep group should have fans excited despite the loss of Mike Williams.
However, the worst thing to see today was the offensive line, particularly the centers, who seemed inconsistent in getting the snaps to their quarterback. The White Team had an especially difficult problem with this, as it seemed that every other snap Johnson was having to scoop the football off of the turf. Heck, the first play of the spring game was a fumbled snap by Bryant.
*This section will take a lot less time to go over....
Every year, the pundits are going to question the state of Clemson's defense. It's a trend that needs to stop, because if there's something Brent Venables and this coaching staff know how to do, it's re-tool his defense with battle-tested guys. A lot of these guys bring experience from last year, and the coaches do one of the best jobs at keeping a solid rotation of guys at every position.
In the scrimmage, this defense was fast, disciplined, and athletic. The offenses struggled to get big plays downfield thanks to the pressure, and chunk plays were few in number. The front seven left little room for quarterbacks to operate, who could do little to stave them off. If anything, it looks even more explosive than it did last season. Defensive tackles Wilkins and Lawrence could easily be the best interior linemen duo in college football if they play anywhere near as good as they did last year. Ferrell should emerge as the primary outside edge rusher, and Austin Bryant should hopefully return to the form he had in late 2015 after having dealt with a foot injury that derailed him for half of 2016.
Coverage in the secondary was, for the most part, pretty solid, though a dominant front seven could help rectify any potential holes that could be had, especially at the corner position. Fields didn’t seem to play due to injury, though it appears he, Trayvon Mullen, Ryan Carter, and Marcus Edmond will be the main rotation at the position. K’Von Wallace got plenty of experience last season and figures to also factor in. Overall, Clemson should feel pretty good about where their secondary is, and a consistent pass rush should open up more opportunities for this group. Guys like Korrin Wiggins and Van Smith aren’t afraid to play in the box, either.
No matter which quarterback emerges as the winner (at least on opening day), Clemson's defense is good enough to keep them in every game and have them competing for the CFB Playoff yet again. Of course, how far this team goes will depend on quarterback play and minimizing their mistakes.