CLEMSON — Who’s No. 2?
The unfortunate truth of this particular spring game is the most intriguing position battle involves three individuals who, if all goes to plan, won’t stray far from the sideline this fall.
If everybody loves the backup quarterback — as the cliché rolls — then Nick Schuessler, Kelly Bryant and Tucker Israel should feel plenty of love Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium during the annual Orange-White scrimmage.
Coaches have raved over the former walk-on Schuessler, who has garnered the lion’s share of first-team reps and will swap jerseys in playing for both the orange and white squads Saturday. However, Bryant and Israel will be full-time opponents in their 15th practice as Tigers, just over three months after enrolling in college courses.
“Spring practice is about breaking it down to the very most minute detail of each position. Now what we’re trying to do in the last week here is bring it all together and see the progress we’ve made,” co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said.
“What we’re going to remember about spring ball is not what happened in the first week and the first scrimmage; we’re going to remember what that final product looks like before we go into the next phase.”
The winner of that derby, in all likelihood and expectation, becomes the top reserve to Deshaun Watson, should anything happen to Clemson’s star sophomore during his rehab from knee surgery — or, of course, on the field this season.
Watson has been throwing and jogging lightly in recent practices, but he’s still weeks away from cutting, scrambling and taking contact around his knee, four months removed from reconstructive surgery.
“Once we get back into (the first set of) summer workouts, he’ll be able to do all the skills and drills stuff,” head coach Dabo Swinney said. “He looks great.”
Death Valley is under construction this spring, and so is Brent Venables’ defense in the wake of eight seniors leaving the starting lineup.
“It’s what we do between now and the end. Are we going to finish? Are we going to come to compete every day? Are we getting a little bit better?” Venables said. “You gotta make a play, too.”
With an all-new look of starting defensive linemen, it’s time for the likes of defensive ends Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd and defensive tackles D.J. Reader, Carlos Watkins and Scott Pagano to prove the nation’s top-rated defense of 2014 won’t suffer a steep dropoff.
“Total domination,” said Dodd, asked his expectations for 2015. “Just go out and play how we expect. The best is the standard. Just show up.”
Venables and offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell will be the head coaches for the two squads, whose rosters were drafted Thursday and have not yet been released.
If the backup QB battle doesn’t excite, look for Wayne Gallman and T.J. Green to do some things at kick return, for Germone Hopper and Ryan Carter to get their crack at punt returner, and 2014 freshman all-American Artavis Scott to work at both those spots.
“We’ve worked really hard on the return game this spring,” Swinney said. “We’ll probably do some live return stuff in the spring game this year.”
Ultimately, the score won’t matter; the relative quality of play will make a longer impression on coaches with the vast majority of Clemson’s 2015 roster present and healthy this spring.
“You can say it’s just a scrimmage, but the players will look up in the stands and see their parents and grandparents and they’ll want to perform well for them,” Swinney said. “It will also be an opportunity for many of them to play in front of a lot of people.”
Due to the stadium’s ongoing construction, the spring game will not be televised, and will only be broadcast on radio in select cities around the state.