Clemson University

Check back on QB situation in 3 months

OK, so observations from the spring game are now, oh, about three games late. That’s what happens when soccer coaches get arrested, there are three marathon baseball games to also cover and, well, you suffer from spring football hangover.

Just had to purge it from my system and clear the mind.

Some (other) folks loathe recruiting because there are no guarantees the five-star blue-chipper’s gonna cut it … but there might not be much more blown out of proportion in the college game than a spring football performance.

A couple of years ago, Taqiy Muhammad — a converted corner just moved to receiver — put on a show and raised expectations about whether he’d fill a void. He appropriately returned to anonymity the minute August camp opened.

Rendrick Taylor is a shoo-in for enshrinement on the Clemson (Sp)Ring of Honor.

Which is reason No. 1 why it is premature to project Kyle Parker as the team’s starting quarterback come August, much less lock him into the spot.

That’s not a vote for Willy Korn, either. It’s simply way too early for the returns to suggest a winner when the public’s sample size is so small and the margin for error in making conclusions based on a spring game remains SOOO large.

Because it was televised, I’m told there was only one offensive line pass protection, one blitz package and two secondary coverages.

So what we witnessed is by no means what the quarterback will have to process in a legit game setting.

What we saw from Parker were the Matt Stafford-esque arm and effortless, quick release for which he already had a reputation. We saw him excel in area that were question marks about him as well; he escaped trouble numerous times and turned negatives into positives, including a pair of flipped shovel passes (one rather ill-advised), plus he deftly used his eyes twice to keep a safety from jumping long passes down the right sideline. Plus, after a rough initial series, he was consistently accurate the rest of the way.

More importantly, in my mind, we saw that he has the presence to control a huddle and be the alpha male to whom others readily defer.

But … he got away with locking in on receivers a couple of times, including a time when he apparently didn’t see linebacker Kavell Conner and bounced a shoulda-been INT off Conner’s hands. Parker also had the benefit of having a legit receiver in Marquan Jones getting separation his man (generally top corner Chris Chancellor) for his two grandest completions, a rarity this day.

What we saw from Korn were both the intangibles and tangibles Clemson’s new coaching staff has been hoping to unleash with an offensive approach (in other words, sans the Rob Spence philosophy) in which the quarterback can be a playmaker instead of a manager or someone whose goal is to not lose the game.

I hadn’t seen Korn cut it loose like that running the ball since he embarrassed Richland Northeast’s embarrassment of Division I defensive riches as a prep junior. Granted, he knew he wasn’t going to get hit, either, but I’ve always pegged Korn as another Matt Grothe (South Florida’s QB for the unfamiliar).

Both around the same height (6-1.5) and have sufficient speed and arm strength, just nothing that piques the NFL scouts’ interest. But they’re gamers who possess the leadership and improv skills you want in a college quarterback, and those things are more important than a strong arm in terms of producing wins.

Now … if you have a QB with Parker’s rocket arm who isn’t far behind Korn in those categories, which is what we were exposed to Saturday … then Clemson’s coaches won’t have too difficult a decision to make.

As much as has been made about the mechanical flaws in his throwing motion – hey, a gaudy hitch didn’t hurt Cullen Harper’s junior numbers – I think that pales in comparison to Korn’s true hurdle: minimizing the turnovers.

You can win just as easily with an average arm, just look at Missouri’s Chase Daniel or Kansas’ Todd Reesing. But 1) You have to make the right decisions, 2) You have to be accurate, and 3) You have to get some help from receivers.

The jury on Nos. 2 and 3 are still out.

All of which add up to why I believe the quarterback competition is far from over.

If I had to pick today, I’d obviously select Parker. Or, actually, would start Parker for two series against Middle Tennessee, let Korn play two, and go from there.

But there are so many variables yet to play out.

With Parker focusing primarily on baseball the next two months, will he slightly regress/remain status quo while Korn presumably plays pitch and catch with the receivers? Will Parker pick back where he left off, or was he riding a four-practice hot streak to end the spring session?

Will spending the next few months trying to eradicate the elongated wind-up in his throwing motion help or hurt Korn’s passing? Some folks think Parker’s apparent move to the top of the depth chart will only push Korn harder in the offseason, thus enhancing his rate of progress. By that rationale, though, Parker’s rise could naturally produce a sense of discouragement.

The only guarantee, in my mind, is that – contrary to Dabo Swinney’s insistence – junior Michael Wade is out of the race.

Wade deserves credit. He’s known as a relentless worker and a tremendously unselfish teammate. Looks like a viable option if there are injuries and he far exceeded my expectations in the scrimmages the media was permitted to watch. Plus he will likely go underappreciated for his value as a holder on place-kicks; scholarship snapper Matt Skinner has his own accuracy issues, and Wade has shown some nifty hands in hauling in and spotting the kicks.

But all you need to know about Wade’s place in the QB quarrel is that the Tigers have been using Wade as the “flashlight” on their punt protection unit.

He’s the middle guy in the back threesome who reads the block coverage, calls out the protection and the snap cadence, then tries to block a charging defender who has a head of steam — basically as the last line of defense for the punter.

You don’t see a team’s projected starting quarterback enduring that kind of physical abuse. Actually, I did once; USC plugged Corey Jenkins in that role a few years ago.

I rest my case.

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