Clemson has big shoes to fill at quarterback as it tries to replace Deshaun Watson, but Dabo Swinney is in no rush to name the heir apparent to the two-time Heisman finalist.
Junior Kelly Bryant enters the spring as Clemson’s starting quarterback. However, who takes the first snap in the Tigers’ opener against Kent State will likely not be determined anytime soon.
Bryant will compete with Zerrick Cooper, Tucker Israel and Hunter Johnson for the starting job this spring before freshman Chase Brice joins the competition in the summer.
Each signal-caller is expected to get a shot to show what he can do before Swinney names a starter for 2017.
“It’s going to be a great competition. I look forward to seeing these guys compete,” Swinney said before the start of spring practice on Wednesday. “Kelly Bryant is definitely the starter going into spring ball, but as I tell these guys all the time, there’s no lifetime contracts. You’ve got to be the best guy all the time.”
Bryant and Israel are the only quarterbacks with any college experience and both have received minimal snaps.
Bryant, a junior, saw action in four games in 2016, completing 6 of 9 passes for 48 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 22 yards and a score.
“The job’s not fully won yet. There’s still work to be done,” Bryant said. “We’ve got other quarterbacks trying to compete. Being named starter, it’s good, but I still want to make sure I make the most of this opportunity.”
Bryant said he is not trying to live up to Watson’s legacy.
“I just want to be Kelly Bryant,” he said.
Israel, a redshirt sophomore, went 4-for-4 passing for 25 yards and had one carry for two yards last season.
Cooper is a redshirt freshman who ran the scout team in 2016. Johnson and Brice are true freshmen.
Johnson is a five-star prospect who has impressed since arriving on campus in January.
“He’s been very focused. I think he’s excited about the opportunity,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said. “We’ve been very pleased with everything. Going through the ‘All in’ mat drills he did a very good job, especially as a freshman.”
The last time Clemson had a quarterback battle entering a season, Cole Stoudt won the starting job for the opener but lost his spot to Watson early in the year.
“Maybe it gets resolved in the spring. Maybe it doesn’t,” Swinney said. “I have no idea. This is college football. There are no preseason games. Sometimes it carries into the season before you can sort it out.”
Clemson has a variety of types of quarterbacks with Bryant, Cooper and Israel being more dual-threat guys and Johnson and Brice being more drop-back passers.
The Tigers plan to cater their offense to whichever quarterback wins the starting job.
“With this offense that’s multiple we’re able to figure out who the best guy is at quarterback first and then we highlight what his talents are,” quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter said.