CLEMSON — There is still time for the tide to shift, still several days of the preseason for a number of things to happen. But “unless something just totally goes crazy,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said junior Kelly Bryant will take the first snap against Kent State as the starting quarterback Sept. 2.
“There is no way I can answer anybody’s question. All I can tell you is here’s where we are today. When we get in there and go play the game, unless something just goes backwards — which anything can happen, we’ve got got a long way to go ... he’s probably going to be the guy to run out there,” Swinney said Wednesday.
“But I don’t know. We’re not at that point yet because every day matters. Every day counts."
That Swinney put his faith in Bryant is nothing new, but Wednesday was the first time the Tigers’ head coach seemed to have made some sort of future prediction about this quarterback battle. Up to this point, Swinney has maintained that if Clemson played “today” or if Clemson played “this week,” Bryant would be the starter, but he never spoke further into the future.
Even Wednesday, Swinney emphasized that Bryant would share playing time with at least one — if not two — of his teammates to create some depth at the position.
With the season opener against Kent State just more than two weeks away, it seems like Swinney might be getting some clarity on his QB plan: roll Bryant out first with Hunter Johnson and Zerrick Cooper to follow.
Asked if he would be open to playing three quarterbacks, Swinney did not hesitate.
“Yes,” he said as he polished off a popsicle.
Then he began to break down the trio further.
“Kelly had an excellent day (Wednesday). Was really, really pleased with him. He’s been very steady and made some explosive plays," Swinney said, adding Bryant has been “so focused” and “so consistent.”
“I think (Johnson and Cooper) are still right there. They both do some good things and then they both make a mistake that you just scratch your head (about),” Swinney continued. “But they’re freshmen. And I understand that. We’ve just got to keep putting them in those situations. Both made some huge explosive plays, but then like, I said, we’ll come back and we forgot the motion. Well that’s a problem.
“It’s a tackle for loss, we’re behind the chains. Or we take a sack on the sprint. It’s just the little things like that they’ve got to continue to grow through ... but man, Zerrick and Hunter are coming. It’s just going to continue to go.”
Clemson can and likely will use the Kent State game to experiment with the three different quarterbacks ahead of Auburn and Louisville in the following weeks. With scrimmages, situational scrimmages and film at their disposal, Clemson coaches have had ample opportunities to thoroughly grade the quarterbacks all offseason, but at a certain point, they have to see them in a game for the final and most important piece of evaluation.
From here, the coaches will continue to evaluate every measurable piece of data they have, but as the days tick down, Bryant seems to be keeping his lead. Wednesday, Bryant took all of his reps with the first string, Cooper took some reps with the first string and Johnson worked a bit with the second team.
There's a looseness about Bryant, too — one that is obvious.
"That’s something I've really been focusing on this offseason, getting back to myself and having fun with it, just getting that confidence. That’s something I’m trying to preach every day I come out here," Bryant said earlier this month. "To have that confidence (when I) walk, it just helps me so much more when I have that confidence."