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Quarterback battle comes to a close: Bryant wins starting job, has to work to keep it

Kim Montuoro, Photo Editor

Junior quarterback Kelly Bryant (2) eludes a defender in Clemson’s annual spring game. Bryant, who was Deshaun Watson’s backup, has earned the starting quarterback position to begin the regular season. 



After having the services of Deshaun Watson at quarterback for three years, the Tigers found themselves in the midst of a quarterback battle this offseason for the first time in a few years. 

Although it was unfamiliar territory for many on the roster, the competition likely did the young Clemson squad some favors offensively, as the three-man race made for an intense slate of spring and fall practices. 

Now, with junior quarterback Kelly Bryant set to take control of the offense, Clemson is expected to be just as fast-paced as it was with Watson, as the speedy Bryant has the explosiveness to change the pace of a game with his feet alone.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney was adamant throughout fall camp that Bryant was far and away the most consistent, poised quarterback for the Tigers. After naming Bryant the starter last week, Swinney told the media, “He has earned it, and I am proud of him. It has been a great competition, but this part is over.”

Mobile and sporting solid arm strength, Bryant has shown flashes of brilliance in past appearances in games, making the most of his relief efforts for Watson during blowouts. 

While his experience is lacking and the downfield accuracy is questionable, Bryant, at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, certainly has the physical attributes needed to become a great quarterback for the Tigers. 

And, for what it is worth, he is the most Watson-esque gunslinger on the Clemson roster, as his build, mobility and pocket presence all harken to the man who led the Tigers to two straight national championship appearances.

While Bryant was shaky at times during spring ball, struggling to make a large impact in the Orange and White Game in April, he clearly put in the work over the summer to ready himself for the responsibility of taking command of the Clemson offense. 

As a result, freshmen Zerrick Cooper and Hunter Johnson did not have nearly the same level of quality plays as Bryant in the Tigers’ full-contact practices or scrimmages during August preparations. Bryant outshined every other quarterback on the roster. 

In the process, the affable, energetic Bryant proved to Swinney and his staff that he has what it takes to serve as the field general for the Tigers.

“[Bryant] doesn’t want anything given to him. Kelly’s got zero entitlement to him,” Swinney said to the media. “He’s one of the nicest kids you’ll ever meet in the world. He’s just 100 percent focused on him, and he wants to win it and earn it.”

Clearly, Bryant’s focus paid off, as he did win the starting job by way of earning it. Of course, Bryant will still have to translate his preseason successes into in-game successes in order to hang on to his starting spot, but, based upon the continuous growth that he has shown throughout the past six months, he should be expected to play quite well when suiting up on the gridiron this fall.

Two years ago, as a true freshman, Bryant put on a show in what essentially marked his debut on the college scene, as he came in to relieve Watson during a blowout of the Miami Hurricanes and proceeded to wreak havoc on the Miami defense, including a mad dash to the end zone on a 59-yard rushing touchdown. 

Remarkably fast and agile, Bryant is as purely athletic as any quarterback sported by the Tigers in the Swinney era. Needless to say, the Tigers have made the most of boasting freak athletes in the backfield and out wide during the entirety of Swinney’s tenure. 

Therefore, Bryant, who is a freak athlete under center, should be expected to receive plenty of playmaking power in the early goings of this season.

Of course, until a quarterback is given the proverbial keys to drive the offense for the entirety of a game, it is far too early to surmise just what type of quarterback he will be. 

As for Bryant, the lack of in-game experience, save a few shining moments during garbage time, is certainly glaring for a player expected to man the offense for the defending national champions, but the maturity and promise that he has consistently displayed since the spring is enough to placate any fears of the junior quarterback being in over his head. 

For an inexperienced quarterback, the college football season is all about growth, so, for Bryant, his main priority this September should be continuing to hone his skills by embracing his strengths. 

There will definitely be twists and turns along the way, especially since the Tigers are facing a fairly difficult schedule. 

However, as long as Bryant is able to learn from any mistakes and continue along his current trajectory of

improvement, he just might prove to be the perfect man for the job and usher in the next era of success for Clemson football.


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