Freshman Deshaun Watson should return in May from a fractured collarbone and seamlessly rejoin the competition for the starting quarterback job at Clemson, coach Dabo Swinney said before Wednesday’s practice.
Swinney said Watson was, obviously, disappointed not to be participating in the spring game Saturday, but he would not be penalized in the intriguing race with senior Cole Stoudt and sophomore Chad Kelly, which could seep into the season.
As a means of evaluating the three in simulated game experiences, Swinney permitted tackling of the quarterbacks during scrimmages this spring. Watson sustained a fractured right collarbone during Monday’s scrimmage when he was tackled by freshman linebacker Chris Register near the end of practice. Watson remained on the field for several more plays.
“We’ll do the same thing in the fall,” Swinney said. “We’ll have to go live at least two scrimmages, then we’ll probably take a couple of practices and pick out two or three periods, five-minute periods where we’ll let them go live.”
Clemson opens its season Aug. 30 at Georgia with a new quarterback and largely new personnel at running back and receiver. Stoudt played the past two seasons as Tajh Boyd’s backup, Kelly much less last season.
“There’s no way we’re going go into Athens and the first time these guys have been hit, not with what we do,” Swinney said. “That’s crazy.
“In the situation we’re in now, it’s a critical part of us making the best decision for this team and the program.”
Swinney continued to decline putting a clock on the decision, though the said he gained “great clarity” in watching the three.
“Part of that great clarity is that we’ve got three great quarterbacks, really talented guys,” he said. “I know you guys are tired of me beating that drum.
“It may not settle. It may go into game performance. If it does, it does. If we end up playing two of them, we play them,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to say, ‘This is our guy.’ ”
In explaining the expectations before spring practice began, Swinney said he made it clear there could not be any sign of tension that could divide the team.
“Our team knows they can all play. They don’t worry about it,” he said. “It’s been good to see the players, really, and good to see the quarterbacks support each other.”
Swinney said he noticed the team respond to Watson’s leadership.
“They can all operate this system very well and they can all win for us, but, obviously, they can’t all be out there as the first guy,” Swinney said.
“The competition isn’t going to end. It’s only going to intensify, because everybody always loves the backup quarterback,” he said, adding with a grin, “And you always pick the wrong guy.”
Swinney said Watson would return “rocking and rolling.”
“It’s not like he’s out of the competition,” the coach said. “He’ll pick right back up where he was and go through summer skills and drills and will come back this fall.
“This thing is far from over.”