Depth chart, in-depth: quarterbacks
First Up: Rising junior Tajh Boyd returns for his second season directing Chad Morris’ offense, and is being pushed by his coaches to become a more poised, consistent performer. Numerically, Boyd made his sophomore season a hard act to follow: 331 of 562 passing, for 4,157 yards and 31 touchdowns, with 12 interceptions. He currently ranks first in school history in passing efficiency, is third in interception avoidance and fourth in completion percentage. During the spring, Boyd failed to consistently show the take-charge attitude and high level of execution that the coaches wanted to see, but he invested time working to improve his ball security, both physically and in his decision-making, and took a spring break trip to California, where he worked alongside Stanford’s NFL-bound Andrew Luck and Oklahoma’s Landry Jones under quarterbacks guru George Whitfield.
Next In Line: Rising sophomore Cole Stoudt got his feet wet under pressure last season when Boyd went down with a hip injury during the Boston College game, and was effective while executing a scaled-back offensive package. The coaches were disappointed when Stoudt failed to take his experience advantage and run with it during the first half of spring drills, but Stoudt responded with a strong second half that maintained his status as the man to beat for the No. 2 spot headed into the fall. He ended up playing in six games as a freshman for a total of 71 snaps, and completed 12 of 21 passes for 115 yards.
In The Pipeline: Redshirt freshman Morgan Roberts, who initially accepted his Clemson scholarship offer as a ‘grayshirt,’ made the most of his first spring and ended up pushing Stoudt for the No. 2 position behind Boyd. At 6-2, 200, Roberts has good size for the position and impressed the coaches by being a quick-study and executing with attention to detail. He capped his spring with a solid performance in the Orange-White game. In high school, he led Charlotte Country Day to the North Carolina private school championship, while passing for nearly 2,000 yards and rushing for 700.
Tony McNeal, who battled fellow first-semester freshman Stoudt for the backup position during the spring and fall prior to the 2011 season, will miss the 2012 season after suffering an ACL injury on the final play of the Orange-White game.
Stoudt and Roberts will be challenged this summer by incoming freshman Chad Kelly – the first player recruited by Chad Morris specifically to run his offense. The 6-3, 210-pound Kelly – the nephew of NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly – was ranked as the No. 3 quarterback in the nation and as the No. 1 player in New York by ESPN. As a senior at St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute in Buffalo, N.Y., Kelly passed for more than 3,000 yards and 27 touchdowns and rushed for 991 yards and 14 scores. As a junior, he became the first player in New York history to pass for more than 2,000 yards and rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season. He is a four-time National Punt, Pass & Kick winner, and is the current record-holder. Kelly, who after signing engaged in a well-publicized verbal skirmish with Stoudt on Twitter, will enroll this summer and join the competition in August.
More Help On The Way: Clemson has an early commitment for its class of 2014 from Deshaun Watson of Gainesville, Ga., who during his freshman and sophomore high schools seasons has passed for more than 5,000 yards and rushed for more than 1,500, while accounting for 79 touchdowns, running and passing. Watson committed to the Tigers on signing day, 2012, and has been a frequent visitor to campus throughout the spring. He is, however, continuing to take visits, including a trip to Auburn’s campus last week.
Quarterback is a low priority for Clemson’s 2013 recruiting class, but the Tigers do have offers out to several uncommitted prospects, including Cord Sandberg (6-3, 203) of Bradenton, Fla., and Riley Ferguson (6-2, 190) of Matthews, N.C.
Overall Outlook: Already in the Heisman Trophy conversation, a more experience, now battled test Boyd has a chance to establish himself as one of the nation’s best. The competition among Stoudt, Roberts and Kelly for the No. 2 position will be one of the Tigers’ most important secondary storylines during the preseason, assuring Morris’ offense of multiple backup options and positioning Clemson well for the future.