Clemson University

What's next for Clemson's quarterback competition?

Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant(2) throws near Clemson defensive end Richard Yeargin (49), during Clemson's NCAA spring game.
Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant(2) throws near Clemson defensive end Richard Yeargin (49), during Clemson's NCAA spring game. Ken Ruinard/Independent Mail

Clemson’s quarterback competition is nowhere near over.

The spring game made that much clear, if nothing else.

Saturday was the biggest opportunity yet for quarterbacks Kelly Bryant, Hunter Johnson and Zerrick Cooper to separate themselves from one another, but none of them did.

Cooper completed more than half of his passes, but most of his completions came on short throws; when throwing the ball downfield, Cooper struggled with accuracy and staring down targets.

Outside of a perfectly thrown 24-yard touchdown pass, Johnson didn’t have much opportunity to demonstrate his arm talent. He faced heavy pressure on most of his drop-backs and appeared overwhelmed by his first taste of game action against a college pass-rush.

Bryant looked impressive as a runner but suffered a finger injury on the first play of the game that hampered his ability to throw the ball.

Clemson’s best quarterback in the spring game was Tucker Israel, who appeared calm, cool and collected running the Tigers’ offense. Even Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, though, acknowledged that Israel "doesn’t have some of the tools" that the more physically gifted Bryant, Cooper and Johnson have.

There remain more questions than answers about who will lead the offense onto the field when Clemson plays Kent State in its Sept. 2 season-opener.

That does not mean it’s time for Clemson fans to panic.

While no one won the quarterback job this spring, no one lost it, either. Bryant was praised for his progress as a passer but wasn’t healthy enough to demonstrate it on Saturday. Johnson and Cooper just completed their first spring at Clemson, making both candidates to improve significantly as they gain experience in fall camp. Israel looks to provide competition for all three.

Starters were split between the Orange and White teams for the spring game, so none of the quarterbacks had the luxury of working with a full first-team offense. Every quarterback had to go up against some of Clemson’s top defenders, who put pressure on the quarterbacks up front and contested throws on the back end.

Swinney is confident, nonetheless, that his quarterbacks are good enough for Clemson to contend for another championship.

"We recruited all four of them and signed them all for a reason," Swinney said. "We would never have signed them if we didn’t believe in them."