Kelly Bryant was the favorite to replace Deshaun Watson at quarterback following the 2016 season, and after a lengthy competition, the junior won the job.
Tigers coach Dabo Swinney announced after Monday’s practice that Bryant will be the starting quarterback heading into the 2017 season.
Redshirt freshman Zerrick Cooper is No. 2, with true freshman Hunter Johnson No. 3, according to Swinney.
Bryant was touted by Clemson’s coaching staff as being the most impressive signal caller throughout fall camp and was named the starter less than two weeks before the start of the season.
“He’s earned it… He’s going to be our starter. We’re excited about that. I’m really proud of Kelly,” Swinney said. “This has been a great competition, and I’m really proud of all the guys because they’re just good people. They all want to be the guy, but I love to see them happy for somebody else. It’s been a really good, spirited competition, but this part of the competition is over and Kelly won it.”
Bryant is the only one of Clemson’s three quarterbacks that has played in a game, appearing in 12. For his career, he is 13 of 22 passing for 75 yards, and he has rushed for 178 yards on 35 carries.
Bryant has proven he can make plays on the ground but has struggled in the passing game in limited playing time, and did not perform well in the spring game earlier this year.
After the conclusion of spring practice, Bryant said that he wanted to improve his passing ability, and Swinney said he has seen a big jump.
“Huge strides, just his confidence, his timing, his rhythm. This spring, he was making the right decisions, but our rhythm wasn’t quite where it needed to be all the time,” Swinney said. “But again, the first time he’s getting that amount of reps with the first-team guys at that pace. He had to really grow in his confidence, anticipation… He’s really, really improved a ton. He has complete ownership of what we’re doing. He knows the details of what we’re doing. If he’ll just go be Kelly and do what we’ve seen on this practice field, he’ll be just fine.”
Bryant was third string behind Deshaun Watson and Nick Schussler the past two seasons.
The battle for the backup quarterback job was a close one, but Cooper, who has one extra year in the system, will enter the season No. 2.
Swinney hopes to get all three of the quarterbacks playing time in the first few games of the season.
The Tigers host Kent State on Sept. 2 before hosting Auburn the next week and traveling to Louisville for Week 3.
“Zerrick is going to be No. 2, first guy off the bench, and Hunter’s right there. They’re right there together. We’ve got no experience, so that’s an issue we hopefully can remedy as we go through this first month,” Swinney said. “It’s going to be hard. We all know we’ve got a tough schedule, but it is what it is. But I love the guys, I’m proud of them as far as how they competed. Now we go to the next phase, and now that is, you get into the games.”