As part of our season preview we posed several questions about Clemson football to the writing staff. This is the first of several roundtables you will see this week. The question posed to the staff was, “Who becomes the real starting QB for Clemson in 2017?”
QuackingTiger: I've always believed that Kelly Bryant would be given every opportunity to win the job. He has shown better accuracy and decision-making during camp andI don't think the coaches are going to give the job to someone else unless they are head and shoulders better than the younger guys. Bryant has paid his dues and gives you an elite runner within the offense.
The question for Bryant is, and always has been, can you do it when the lights come on and there is real pressure. Bryant has always done well in practice settings and shown the capacity to be the starting quarterback, but he doesn't perform as well in games and scrimmages. The Spring game wasn't a good metric because he hand got injured, but he still needs to develop more confidence. Cooper started camp slow, but gives you the most arm talent. He just hasn't been consistent. Johnson gives you a complete package, but he is still a true freshman and dealing with consistency and making the right reads.
Clemson knows they will need to rely on their defense, so they want a quarterback who isn't going to lose them games. They want to limit turnovers and grind out some of these games early in the season as the offense builds confidence. Auburn may be the toughest (or probably second toughest) game on the schedule with Louisville on the road right after. Whoever is the best decision maker at the end of camp will be the starter and so far that is Bryant. I think you will see multiple quarterbacks play in the early part of the season--Bryant and Johnson the most right now, but Bryant will be the guy unless he just can't perform under pressure. Scrimmages will be big and I don't think a starter is named until late in camp.
Alex: I've been firmly in the Kelly Bryant camp since the spring game and I don't expect it to change. Bryant doesn't have to be Deshaun Watson to be successful in this offense; the ground game should be formidable to elite with him at the helm, which should open up simple passing constraints into favorable coverages. That on its own is enough to keep him firmly in the mix throughout the season, but I am more firm in this assertion than I was in the spring because of his competition, as well. I was never as high on Hunter Johnson (considering his 5 star billing, I see a high 4) as most were/are, and before the spring I thought Zerrick Cooper would emerge as the best blend for both the downfield passing game and the zone read to remain strengths (with Bryant and Johnson I expected trade-offs in both). Yet it seems neither of the freshmen have closed the gap with their superior arm talent, while Bryant has only grown more and more serviceable through the air. If Bryant is merely an above average passer, this competition isn't close thanks to his legs.
QT ultimately hit the nail on the head regarding fielding the quarterback least likely to lose Clemson games. Bryant seems the easy selection there since Clemson should be an efficient running team with an elite defense, but I think a more telling question is: to whom will Clemson turn if they fall far behind an opponent and has to mount a furious comeback? That may be when we find the real answer.
Ryan: We have only seen the Spring game and heard what the staff has to say about the QB situation. Based on that, it seems like Kelly Bryant is the clear leader, though Hunter Johnson still has a chance.
Expect Bryant to start the first two games and hopefully the remainder, as that would mean things are going well.
Brian: So is there any chance we see something from Cooper or Brice this year? And if so does that mean Cooper transfers?
Alex: Brice is certain to redshirt, and I believe Cooper is the most likely transfer candidate as things currently stand. Given the amount of young talent at the position, at least 1 transfer next year is certain. Which quarterback that is though is contingent upon who locks down the position. If Cooper doesn't start this year, it's hard to believe he'll stick around with Bryant, Johnson, and likely Trevor Lawrence ahead of him next year. Whereas if Cooper were to ultimately win the job, Johnson would leave for the same reason. Is Brice content to more likely than not serve as a backup for 4-5 years? There are so many scenarios it's difficult to project which will ultimately transfer, but I expect two current QBs to leave Clemson before exhausting their eligibility.
Brian: We are definitely going to see transfers, especially if Lawrence does end up being as good as advertised. We’ve been fortunate at Clemson where our top QB recruits either only have to sit for a season when they arrive. Some of that has to do with timing, but also recruiting level. QB is the one position where too many great recruits will usually lead to transfers. But it is a good problem to have.