CLEMSON - For those expecting clarity on Clemson's quarterback question after the Tigers' first scrimmage, forget it. Incumbent Kelly Bryant and newcomer Trevor Lawrence both played strongly Saturday in a big showing for Clemson's offense.
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"I tell everybody, I'd hate to be (quarterback coach) Brandon Streeter," tight end Milan Richard said. "We got guys who can play."
Just who should play most for the Tigers, expected to romp through the Atlantic Coast Conference and into the College Football Playoff, is a continuing debate.
Bryant is a senior who stepped in for national championship passer Deshaun Watson a year ago and led the Tigers to a 12-2 mark and their third ACC title and CFP trip. Lawrence is a tall, strong-armed freshman who broke Watson's Georgia state high school marks for passing yards and touchdowns.
It's a question everyone's got an opinion on - except, for now, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney.
Both played well in the scrimmage. Bryant started things off with a 70-yard scoring drive while Lawrence followed with another scoring series.
"The offense had a great day," Swinney said. "It's good to see us throw and catch like we did today. Kelly set the tempo with the opening drive, big plays. Then Trevor came in and took it and went with it, big plays."
Despite the team's success last season, there were plenty of critics of Clemson's offense and Bryant's run-first style, which contrasted greatly with how Watson threw the ball all over the field the previous three years. The shouts were loudest after Clemson was stuffed by Alabama's defense in a 24-6 loss at the Sugar Bowl that knocked the Tigers from title contention.
Bryant has proven durable and essential . Clemson's lone loss last year came when Bryant was knocked out with a concussion in the second quarter at Syracuse. The Tigers had the following week off and Bryant retuned to play the rest of the season.
But Lawrence, with his long, blond hair and 6-foot-5 frame, electrified fans at the spring game last April in completing a 50-yard TD pass to Tee Higgins on his second snap.
The competition has continued daily at practice the past week. Bryant's experience certainly has kept him out front. Bryant has performed strongly, Swinney said, while Lawrence is learning that the throws he made consistently in high school don't always work in college.
"We've got a long way to go," Swinney said.
Swinney may have to weigh recent history when he makes his final decision on a starter. Watson was a highly regarded freshman in 2014 recovering from a cracked collarbone the previous spring when summer camp rolled around, while Cole Stoudt was a senior who had waited the previous three years behind record-setting starter Tajh Boyd. Stoudt's experience won out and he got the call in Clemson's first three games. The Tigers, though, went 1-2 with losses at Georgia and Florida State. Watson took over in Week 4 in a season when he was injured twice more and needed offseason surgery.
Watson went 28-2 the next two seasons, including a dramatic win in the 2016 national title game against Alabama.
Bryant said he can't worry about the big picture, only his play on the field . He's worked every day to stay locked in and not get caught between Clemson's success past in Watson or bright future in Lawrence. "I want to improve on a year ago, but I also need to focus on myself and if I do that then everything else will take care of itself," he said.
Lawrence can't speak to the media until he sees action, per Swinney's guidelines for new players. Clemson's players and coaches have seen plenty already to know that when Lawrence does play regularly, it could be something special.
Tigers receiver Hunter Renfrow said the players aren't caught up in any competition. They're just happy both teammates play for Clemson.
"They are both incredible," Renfrow said. "We were with them both during the spring and we were with both of them during the summer, so not much has changed. They both can sling it."
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