Three quarterbacks and no runaway favorite – Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is looking at (almost) literally everything in evaluating the heir apparent to Tajh Boyd.
He has a fourth-year senior and three-year backup in Cole Stoudt who’s played more each season – and improved with it, completing 80 percent of his passes at seven yards an attempt in 2013.
He has the ambitious redshirt sophomore Chad Kelly, who made a remarkable recovery from a torn ACL and finished second on the team in 20-yard runs last season (3).
And finally, he has the five-star freshman and top-rated dual-threat Deshaun Watson – the prize Chad Morris invested ample time in bringing to TigerTown.
Approaching the midpoint of spring practice, Swinney says he’s enjoying the competition.
“They’ve all responded well and competed,” Swinney said. “It’s fun. I got their grade report and guess what? It’s amazing what competition will do. They are competing academically too. That’s what you love to see. Everything counts – everything matters to be the quarterback at Clemson. It’s fun to come to work every day and fun to come to practice.
“Every play matters in this competition. Every play is charted. Decision-making, completion percentage, interceptions – whatever. It’s fun.”
They have all had their shot to compete with a first team offense that has competition across the board, returning only four starters.
“We roll them,” Swinney said. “Pretty much the ones and twos have been divided up between Chad and Cole. We’ll change those out…We’ve rolled Deshaun – some snaps at one, but not much. He’s been with the twos. We’ve taken the ones and split those. We’ve done a little of everything.”
That divide in snaps from the two with experience, Stoudt and Kelly, and Watson, isn’t representative of struggles from the early enrollee.
“He’s got all of the qualities you would want in a young quarterback in particular,” said Swinney. “He’s had great training in high school. He’s really patient in the little things in the position – like ballhandling for example. He’s a smooth operator. Smooth at the line.
“Very impressed with him – got a long way to go, but man has he improved every single practice. You can see his confidence and command – he studies. He is a bookworm when it comes to studying his responsibility in this offense. Really proud of him.”
Watson played all four years in Gainesville (Ga.), amassing over 13,000 passing yards and 4,000 rushing yards with 214 touchdowns in a system similar to Clemson’s.
Swinney said the familiarity with the spread helps, but is not required when recruiting quarterbacks to TigerTown going forward.
“It’s more about the skillset,” Swinney said. “If you have a guy who has the skillset you desire and he plays in a system like this – that’s great, but that’s not a prerequisite by any means.”
Going into his sixth full year as the Tigers’ boss, Swinney likes what he’s seeing from all of the five first-year freshmen on campus now.
“He just keeps getting better,” he said. “All of those freshman – not just him. All of those mid-years. I was telling the team that’s what you’d like to see. We’ve got a group of guys on this team that are just solid. I can sleep good at night. I know we can win with them. Then there are a group of guys that are improving. Not ready to go win games but you can see them getting better.
“That’s really what the (spring practice) objective is.”