Clemson QB Watson eager for first spring game

Nathan Gray/Anderson Independent-Mail ¬ Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson throws a pass during the first day of football practice.

CLEMSON — Deshaun Watson has experienced about as much as any third-year player could in college football, but one thing he hasn’t done finally arrives Saturday.

“I’m looking forward to it, my first spring game,” Clemson’s sophomore quarterback said Monday. “It’s really just about enjoying it with the team and the fans, to get excited about this upcoming season. It’s just a little glimpse of what 2016’s going to look like.”

Provided Watson does not injure himself leading up to the annual Orange-White scrimmage Saturday at Memorial Stadium, it will indeed be his first appearance in the event.

Watson was set to participate in the 2014 spring game as a true freshman who had enrolled early, but he broke his collarbone in a live tackling drill three days before that scrimmage, leaving all the reps to then-quarterbacks Cole Stoudt and Chad Kelly. Then in 2015, Watson missed all spring practices while rehabbing from knee surgery.

After finishing third in the Heisman Trophy voting last fall, leading the Tigers to the national championship game and becoming the first 4,000-passing-yards, 1,000-rushing-yards quarterback in Division I history, Watson has little to prove Saturday, but he doesn’t yet know how much playing time he’ll see.

“That’s coach (Dabo) Swinney’s decision,” Watson said. “Whenever I’m in, I’m going to do my job, and whenever I’m not, I’ll cheer everybody else on and help them.”

Backups Nick Schuessler, Kelly Bryant and Tucker Israel are expected to log the most repetitions as they battle for the right to serve as Watson’s backup this fall.

Through the past month of practices, Clemson coaches have not put much on Watson’s plate in terms of actual physical goals, since much of what they’d like to see Watson improve involves the run game or avoiding defensive pressure, and quarterbacks have not been hit during spring practices.

“The ball-handling, the play-fakes, the footwork — those are things he’s trying to master,” Swinney said. “He’s one of the last guys out of here every single day because that’s what he’s doing. That’s why he’s a great player. There’s a lot of talented guys that aren’t good players. He has got such an unbelievable work ethic, and he’s such a great young man.”

Leadership has been the quality Swinney has wanted to see Watson fine-tune, and moreso on the vocal side.

“The biggest thing for him is really asserting himself,” Swinney said. “He’s just going to do everything, go above and beyond you ask of him always. But there are times, especially with his role now and the respect he has, we really want him to grab a guy and pull him. He’s doing a good job of that.

“Because we’re going to need that all summer. He’s in a position where he can really lead this football team. We want him to take advantage of that respect — for the entire team, not just the offensive guys.”

In the final week of spring practices, Watson said the offense is “on track” in relation to where he wanted the unit progressing. Clemson set a school record for yardage in 2015, and figures on paper to be even stronger this fall.

“Right now it’s get-ready season, so we’re making sure guys are on the same page to go into the summer,” Watson said. “We can get back in the weight room and grind, come back in August a better football team and ready for the season.”

After Monday’s practice, Swinney said starting tight end Jordan Leggett’s day was done early with a stomach flu.

Swinney added that former tight end Stanton Seckinger, a Porter-Gaud product, is spending time with the football team as a student coach. Seckinger is finishing up a five-year academic program after playing in 47 games in his college career.

Former graduate assistant Corico Wright, who was previously a Tigers defensive player, recently moved on to accept a full-time job coaching defensive backs at Murray State.