Kelly Bryant entered spring practice with a sizeable lead on Clemson’s other three quarterbacks, including Trevor Lawrence, for the starting job.
Bryant’s accomplishments from 2017 have been well documented the past several months. He led the Tigers to the ACC title, a spot in the College Football Playoff and was a Manning Award finalist in his first year as Clemson’s starting quarterback.
“Obviously Kelly’s on top,” Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said in March. “We’ve got a starter right now. Kelly’s our starter… Our starter’s back. He’s the returning starter for us. He started 14 games. That’s where we are.”
But with spring practice now over, concluding with Saturday’s spring game, the considerable lead that Bryant once held appears to be dwindling away, if not gone.
For most of the spring it seemed almost certain that Bryant would be Clemson’s starter in Game 1 against Furman on Sept. 1. That changed after Saturday.
Bryant managed only 35 passing yards on 15 pass attempts, while Lawrence completed 11 of 16 passes for 122 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions.
Bryant struggled with his accuracy, particularly on deep balls. Lawrence showed impressive touch, connecting with Tee Higgins for a 50-yard score on his second pass of the afternoon.
When you combine those factors with what Swinney said following Saturday’s action, it would no longer be a surprise to see Lawrence enter the season as Clemson’s starting quarterback.
Swinney was asked Saturday if Bryant remains Clemson’s No. 1 quarterback and had an interesting response.
“This is just another scrimmage for us to evaluate. He missed two big throws today that he’s made all spring that he missed them today. We’ll sit down. We’ll have the exit interviews with all of those guys. Regardless of what any post-spring depth chart is it just really doesn’t matter because we don’t play until September... There’s a lot of work to be done. You’ve gotta earn it every day,” Swinney said. “We’ll sit down and we’ll meet with all of those guys and tell them exactly where they are and what they’ve got to do this summer, and then we’ll pick it back up this August and go from there.”
Swinney has been as bullish as anyone about what Bryant accomplished in 2017, detailing how he proved people wrong time and time again during his junior season
But when asked if he has seen Bryant do enough in the past to not worry about Bryant’s erratic throws on Saturday, Swinney changed his tune.
“It’s disappointing because those are a couple of big plays that he didn’t take advantage of, but he’s made a lot of big plays. This kid’s proven he can win at a high level for us,” Swinney said. “But last year doesn’t have anything to do with this year. You’ve got to prove it all over again… It’s a very competitive situation, no doubt about it.”
Bryant still exits the spring as Clemson’s No. 1 quarterback, but the Tigers do not play a game for 4 1/2 months.
If Lawrence, Hunter Johnson and Chase Brice were able to make up a considerable amount of ground in 15 spring practices, it would not be a shock if one of them, particularly Johnson or Lawrence, is able to pass Bryant before the games really matter.
“He’s still at this point No. 1 if we played today. But when we came into spring that was an easy statement to say because we’ve gotta start somewhere,” Swinney said. “Kelly has had a really good spring, but those guys behind him have had a great spring as well. … If we played today Kelly would run out there, but we don’t play today. We play in September. Everything counts, and I expect these guys to continue to compete with everything that they’ve got.”