This is my own personal take on Fall Camp after trying to piece everything together heading into the first game of the season. One last time prognosticating before we get to see actual Clemson football (this has been one of the longer offseason waits, I swear...).
Kelly Bryant vs. Trevor Lawrence
The coaching staff has played this beautifully. 100% correct. Bryant confirmed today that he contemplated transferring in the offseason. Hunter Johnson actually made the decision. With Hunter and Cooper gone the QB room got thin really fast. You love Chase Brice, but do you really want him as your 2nd string guy this early in his career? The staff needed to prolong the competition and I have no problem with Bryant named the starter at this point. Ultimately, this competition was going to be decided by who performed the best on the field and both QB’s are going to play a lot during the season. Performance on the field will dictate playing time as the season progresses.
At Nebraska you have a QB transferring at this week, the day after the starter is named. Coaches must protect their depth. The transferring QB is only going to continue, if not expand in the future.
And look, like Coach Swinney said today, there isn’t any reason to root against Kelly Bryant as your starting QB or as a QB getting reps. Bryant was a mess after the Spring game, but he cleaned up his mechanics and improved. Here are the areas KB struggled: making the right read on the zone read, horizontal throws, deep throws, and sometimes not reading the entire field and going through progressions. In all of those areas experience and improving his mechanics have helped him improve.
He still struggles with the zone read, but is a bit better and the superior runner (although Trevor Lawrence showed he has decent wheels and impressed the coaches in the Spring with this). The entire offense has improved the horizontal game with improved perimeter blocking and better velocity on snaps. KB won’t ever zip the ball out the way TL does, he just won’t, but his footwork has improved and the ball is getting out faster in camp. He doesn’t have great deep ball accuracy and balls that should be deep balls turn into more intermediate balls at times. TL has the better passing accuracy on deep balls and effortless mechanics where he just flicks it and it goes 40 yards. But KB has great receivers and doesn’t need to have the best deep ball to be successful—it just needs to be there. Going through progressions has improved with experience and knowledge of the system, but still isn’t great (this is an area where TL is uncanny for a true freshman). As David Hale pointed out in a tweet today, the percentage of downfield throws was greatly reduced and that needs to go up. KB has to trust the system and make those throws.
It’s not just about whether Kelly Bryant had success downfield. What’s clear is that Clemson dramatically shifted how often they threw downfield at all. pic.twitter.com/n8LItKfXg0— A David Hale joint (@DavidHaleESPN) August 30, 2018
KB was also able to rely on the insane hands of Hunter Renfrow to boost his intermediate passing numbers despite inaccuracy. The real question for this season is whether or not KB’s mechanics can be sustained throughout the entire season. Last year he came into the season improved, regressed, found himself and then wilted against the Bama defense. If he is the Miami version of KB (or slightly improved) for the entire season then everyone should cheer and TL will get spot reps in each game and help to blow teams out. If not, TL will eat more and more reps until they are even and then he will overtake KB. It depends on KB’s mechanics and accompanying confidence. I’m fine with letting it play out on the field and letting KB take some of the hits and the bulk of the running duties in games.
But what about Bama? TL is going to be groomed throughout the season and given every opportunity (or third opportunity) to be prepared for the postseason. If KB struggles then TL will take over. Got to cross that bridge after you have a season of data to work with.
Make no mistake, however, about Trevor Lawrence the QB. He is the best QB to step foot on the Clemson campus. His throws have a different zip to them and he reads defenses, gets to his check down like a veteran. He is mobile in the pocket and has better speed and agility than you expect for a guy his size. His throws are effortless, especially on the run or outside the pocket—a flick and the ball is 50 yards down the field. He has had some freshman moments and mistakes, but he was the most talented QB during camp. KB should start and gives us the senior leadership to go into A&M and get that ‘W.’ But after that, TL should be given every opportunity to win the majority of the snaps heading into Florida State and the trap BC game.
Lord Trevor is a great nickname for TL (it might have started here at STS...), but can we do even better?
The Sheriff? The TLaw? Help me out...(we can’t do Sunshine—he hates it and it is just too easy)
BT Potter won the kickoff job the moment he stepped on campus. This is a good reminder to not always believe everything coaches or Dabo say at times. They always want to frame everything as a competition, and they should, but this was never a competition or a battle. I was surprised to hear Dabo admit this today and reverse course on what he and Pearman had said earlier. Regardless, Potter will be a weapon as the kickoff specialist. BT struggled some at punter during camp, but he showed he will be the starting FG kicker next year and the KO guy until he leaves campus. If Huegel struggles then BT is the likely next man up.
This team is the most complete of the Dabo Swinney era and arguably in Clemson history. Here are a few of the potential potholes to consider as the season progresses.
- DB depth: All the starting talent is elite and you have three elite corners and Simmons who can be a versatile piece to plug back into Safety from the SAM spot. It is still a concern, however.
- Oline depth: Starters are all good to great players. Hyatt is one of the better LT’s to suit up for Clemson. Simpson is an emerging star at LG. Falcinelli is solid at Center with a year of experience. Pollard gives you experienced talent at RG and Anchrum continues to elevate his game at RT (remember when we said at STS he was the underrated steal of his class). But the depth is still unproven. Bockhorst gives you a quality interior player along with Cervenka as the primary Center backup. Cade Stewart is serviceable. There really isn’t much else. At Tackle you could move Pollard back outside but then you have Reeves and Vinson is behind him at RT. Vinson had a hurt ankle during camp, but Carman took his reps and surpassed him on the depth chart.
Really encouraged by Jackson Carman’s Fall camp performance. He is every bit of the 5* prospect and is moving much better, increased flexibility is noticeable. Slimmed down over the Summer and took hold of the 2nd string position. He played both Guard and Tackle during camp (and was able to understand and process those positional nuances), but he will start as the future and back-up LT. Some recruiting folks worried about his attitude or something during the recruiting process (he has never been shy about his opinions), but he hasn’t needed any de-recruiting.
3. Punter consistency: We are reaching now, but punting is still hit or miss. Coaches are still looking for a bit more consistency at the position.
That is really it. Everything else is connected to QB play like deep balls and the horizontal game.
Odds and Ends
Cornell Powell is going to start at KO and worked his way into the 2nd string WR at the ‘2’ position. Powell really needs to emerge so I can rub it in Luginbillllssss digital face.
I wrote about being concerned about CB depth in the preview, but who wouldn’t want to have two NFL caliber tall, long, athletic corners on their roster. Mullen is going to the NFL and Terrell isn’t far behind.
Logan Rudolph exited camp last season with the coaches thinking he was a future NFL talent. Justin Foster progressed as the season went on and has continued that progression, but a healthy Rudolph reasserted himself in camp. Rudolph is the relentless, motor, bulldog.What an insane amount of depth despite the loss of Yeargin. Clemson has 6 DE’s on the roster who will all be drafted. Next season Clemson will have 4 quality DE’s.
XT is still a monster. Don’t forget. Not as much has been said about Thomas during camp because DE is such a tough position to learn in modern defenses and BV really uses his lineman in a lot of different ways. But if XT lines up and rushes the passer (which will happen situationally a lot this year), he is incredibly explosive and powerful. Henry is much further along than many thought he would be with his weight gain and strength. The trick for BV will be to get these guys some situational work (XT in a pass rush specialist package, for example) that will expand as the season continues.
Garrett Williams is a man blocking at the TE position. He was listed as the co-starter for a reason, and it wasn’t just the Richard knee injury.
They hype around Justyn Ross is legit. He still needs to mentally put it all together, but at the ‘9’ he can go up and Moss people. He showed that in high school, but he can do it consistently. Overton still isn’t consistent and needs more work—Ross is pushing him.
Lyn-J Dixon still needs some work on the mental parts of the game for these coaches to really trust him. They are going to give the carries to the three guys ahead of him, but he will get spot carries. He doesn’t know where to go yet, but he has excellent vision and the ability to cut. His physicality is impressive and pass pro is decent. Just don’t be shocked if we don’t see him much unless we are blowing people out.
Don’t forget that our new recruiting suite is going to be very close to finished, if not completed, for hosting recruits on gameday. Important advancement that other programs have already started implementing to keep up in the recruiting arms race.
This weekend it gets broken in by 2019 LB Kane Patterson (6’1, 225) from Nashville, TN who is visiting with his family. Patterson is a prospect I really liked, but he committed to Ohio State and was coming back from a knee injury. He is fully healed, explosive, and playing both ways for his high school. Clemson didn’t offer initially and he was pursued harder by other programs and committed to OSU, but Clemson offered about a month ago for a reason. This isn’t a done deal, but this is a major visit where everyone will see if all the pieces fit and everyone is comfortable. I’ll leave it at that.
He is rated number 199 overall but that is because one service has him way too low. He is easily a top 150 prospect who should be around 100 when all is said and done. He will play either WILL or MIKE at the college level in BV’s scheme.
For 2020 I have a bit of information on QB DJ Uiagalelei (6’5 225) the number one player in the class of 2020. Publicly Oregon and Clemson are cited as the leaders. He and his family have a lot of connections to the Oregon coaching staff. Privately, Clemson leads. But just keep that here...Happy Football Weekend!! I’m booking my Santa Clara accommodations as you read this...