CLEMSON — Deshaun Watson has only needed a season and a half to reach 49 passing touchdowns, which ties Charlie Whitehurst for second place in Clemson quarterback history behind Tajh Boyd’s 107 TDs.
There are no question marks at the starting quarterback position. But Watson, a junior, is the only member of the Tigers roster who has ever thrown for a college touchdown.
That includes Watson’s potential understudies. Senior Nick Schuessler enters his fourth year as a backup, sophomore Kelly Bryant had an electric running game last Oct. 28 at Miami and coaches are high on redshirt freshman Tucker Israel’s long-term potential, but all have yet to pass and put six points on the board in a live game.
The primary No. 2 on Clemson’s depth chart has not been determined — the same situation Schuessler and Bryant found themselves in for much of 2015.
“That’s what we’re looking for,” co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said, asked if he would prefer a clearly defined backup. “The summer’s going to be big for those guys to have an opportunity to be with Deshaun and work all summer and pick his brain and build chemistry and cohesion and timing with the receivers.”
Schuessler’s class schedule forced him to miss several practices this spring, opening the door for Bryant to take command of the starting offense more frequently. But whatever progress the burly sophomore from nearby Wren High School made this spring was not on display during Saturday’s spring game in front of a record 50,500 fans at Memorial Stadium.
Bryant completed 9 of 17 passes for 128 yards, but was wildly inaccurate when throwing the deep ball and was picked off twice.
“Yeah, I know I’ve had a few that I put too much on it, some of them sailed out of bounds,” Bryant said. “It’s something I’m still trying to learn from and get it all together.”
Three points in defense of Bryant: a spring game without full contact on the quarterbacks did not properly illustrate his talents in the running game. His second interception, recorded by cornerback Ryan Carter with eight seconds left in the first half, was blamed on receiver Ray-Ray McCloud for running the wrong route. And, as Elliott put it, the curve is skewed by his fellow teammate.
“He’s got a little bit of an unfair situation being compared to Deshaun Watson every single play,” Elliott said. “He’s got a good demeanor. He’s got it all. The biggest thing is just experience. He’s still a young guy. But he’ll get there.”
As for Schuessler, who has thrown at least 17 passes in each of Clemson’s last four spring games, he looked steady commanding the offense Saturday and engineered two scoring drives, including a 7-yard touchdown strike to tight end Cannon Smith. Schuessler was 14 of 21 for 133 yards on the day.
“One thing I wanted to develop the most (this spring) was the anticipation when you’re out there, recognizing what the defense is going to do,” Schuessler said. “That’s what makes Deshaun so special; the game is in slow motion for him out there. To watch him and do a little bit of work on my own, that’s where I wanted to take my next step.”
Israel completed 2 of 10 passes for 44 yards, and walk-on James Barnes completed 4 of 9 for 29 yards.
After logging four series (two with each the Orange and White squads), Watson spent the final three quarters of Saturday’s scrimmage with a towel around his neck standing 15 yards behind the offensive backfield.
“Whenever my time was in, I went in there and competed for both teams,” Watson said, “and when I wasn’t, just be back there and help the other guys, and really go through my progressions and decision-making, also.”