ACC: Clemson Tigers

No surprise here: Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says he will name veteran Cole Stoudt his starting quarterback.

Swinney confirmed the news to, shortly after he told Fox Sports, "He's a great leader who is highly respected by his teammates. He never once complained. He was always ready when we needed him. He's earned it and he will be named the starter."

The decision is a no-brainer. Swinney dismissed Chad Kelly from the program Monday for conduct detrimental to the team, leaving a three-way quarterback race down to Stoudt and true freshman Deshaun Watson. Stoudt has served as Tajh Boyd's backup over the last three seasons. Though he is not perceived to be as mobile as Boyd or Watson, Stoudt has earned this opportunity.

Now all that's left is making the most of it.
Two weeks ago, Chad Morris said he hoped the quarterback competition at Clemson would be cleared up by the end of spring, but certainly this isn’t what he had in mind.

Sophomore Chad Kelly was dismissed from the team Monday for what coach Dabo Swinney called, “conduct detrimental to the program,” after a sideline altercation between Kelly and coaches proved the last straw for the hot-headed QB.

“He has had a pattern of behavior that is not consistent with the values of our program,” Swinney said.

The personality conflicts come as no surprise to Clemson coaches, who hoped Kelly would mature throughout the QB battle this offseason, but that didn’t happen -- at least not at a rate fast enough for Swinney.

But Kelly’s dismissal couldn’t have been an easy decision. While senior Cole Stoudt and early enrollee Deshaun Watson are both capable alternatives, Morris gave Kelly every chance to win the job this spring -- even making scrimmages live for QBs so Kelly could showcase his mobility -- because his skill set was a closer fit for what the Tigers want to do offensively.

Morris said prior to Clemson’s first scrimmage of the spring that: “We have to be able to adapt to the personnel we have. If it’s Cole, he’s not quite the runner that Chad and Deshaun are, and we have to adapt to him. … If it’s Chad or Deshaun, you might be more zone-read than you are anything.”

Under Morris, Clemson has used QB runs effectively, and Kelly offered the Tigers their best chance to continue to do that.

Last season, only Maryland and Wake Forest (two of the ACC’s worst rushing offenses) had a higher percentage of their rushing yards come from quarterbacks. Only Duke and Maryland had a higher percentage of rushing touchdowns come from their quarterbacks. Mobility was important for Clemson, and Stoudt -- the presumed starter now -- doesn’t have much of it.

So what does that mean for the Tigers’ offense going forward?

As Morris indicated, the personnel and the playbook will need to be tweaked some to fit Stoudt’s skill set, but that doesn’t necessarily mean massive overhaul. While Tajh Boyd was an effective runner, a closer look at Morris’ play-calling shows that, even with a mobile QB, Clemson’s reliance on Boyd’s legs wasn’t excessive.

In 2013, Clemson’s QBs accounted for just 30 percent of the team’s rush attempts (not counting sacks), good for seventh in the ACC and well within the median group. Overall, just 14.6 percent of the Tigers’ total plays last year were QB runs -- roughly the same rate as NC State, UNC, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech and Duke. And those zone-reads Morris figured could be a crucial part of the playbook with Kelly at QB? According to ESPN Stats & Info, it was hardly a factor with Boyd running the show a year ago.

Yes, Clemson would’ve loved to have a quarterback who could make plays with both his feet and his arm, and Kelly certainly fit the bill. But in the end, the potential didn’t outweigh his combustible personality. And there’s no reason to assume the Tigers can’t win with a less nimble runner. After all, the four ACC teams that ran their quarterbacks the least in 2013 all made bowl games, including national champion Florida State. And while Clemson’s stable of running backs was beleaguered by injuries a year ago, the depth chart at the position projects as a serious strength for the Tigers’ offense in 2014.

And Kelly’s departure also assures one other thing: Watson, the freshman early enrollee who missed the spring game with a minor injury, won’t be redshirted this year. While Morris has suggested Watson has an uphill battle to master the playbook in time to win the starting job, Kelly’s loss virtually guarantees Watson will get routine playing time, and he’s more than capable of being that same dual-threat weapon in Clemson’s backfield. And given Watson’s profile as a star of the future, getting him on the field in small doses behind Stoudt could prove a major bonus in the long run.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
Boston strong.

Clemson quarterback Chad Kelly introduced himself to fellow quarterback Cole Stoudt in unabashed fashion in January 2012, before he even put on a Tigers uniform:

"Your on the bench for a reason. And i come soon! Just letting you know," Kelly tweeted.

[+] EnlargeChad Kelly
Doug Buffington/Icon SMIFormer ESPN 300 recruit Chad Kelly has been dismissed from the Clemson football team.
Now he’s leaving, seemingly just as soon.

Kelly was kicked off the team on Monday “for conduct detrimental to the program.” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney referenced a “pattern of behavior that is not consistent with the values of our program.” In a twist of either irony or fate, Stoudt is now left as the undisputed front-runner to replace record-setting quarterback Tajh Boyd as Clemson’s new starting quarterback this fall. Kelly’s career ended before it ever really started -- more snippets and quotes than snaps -- and what was once an intriguing three-man race this spring has ended with one healthy quarterback and an early enrollee freshman who is out with a broken collarbone.

The news comes just two days after a disastrous spring game performance in which Kelly wasn’t just outplayed by Stoudt, he was also benched for the entire second half after he gave the coaches an earful about opting to punt on a fourth-and-short. Kelly completed 10 of 18 passes for 113 yards and two interceptions, but was judged as much for his sideline demeanor and frustrations as he was the throw into double coverage. It's unfortunate, really, because what happened on Saturday wasn't indicative of Kelly's entire spring, which was good enough to keep it an interesting competition heading into summer camp. Stoudt, meanwhile, went 15-for-23 for 158 yards with two touchdown passes in the spring game.

And we’ve barely heard a peep from him about it.

With Kelly’s departure and the injury to freshman Deshaun Watson, who is expected to be healthy in time for summer camp, Clemson’s quarterback competition has essentially solved itself. The luxury to redshirt Watson is gone, and while the position’s depth took an unquestioned hit, it was a coaching decision that could wind up to be addition by subtraction. Clemson was looking for a leader as much as it was a starting quarterback, and they've found it in Stoudt. The overconfident Kelly, who has his own rap song, “Chad Kelly,” tweeted as a recruit that he wasn’t coming to Clemson “just to sit on the bench” and yet that’s exactly where he found himself in the second half on Tuesday.

Following the spring game, Kelly wasn’t made available to speak to reporters.

Apparently, he has said enough.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
Bo Pelini is the cat's meow.

ACC spring games recap

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
Eight ACC teams wrapped up their spring seasons this past weekend, with games and open practices taking place from Pittsburgh all the way down to Miami. Here's a look at the biggest storylines from all of the action surrounding six of those teams. (Colleague Jared Shanker has plenty of Florida State content over on our Seminoles site, while our David Hale was in the house for the second spring of the Dave Doeren era at NC State.)

The Tigers entered their spring game down one quarterback after Deshaun Watson injured his collarbone five days earlier, and fellow signal caller Chad Kelly might have simplified the QB battle for the coaching staff down the stretch -- just not in a good way. Kelly got himself benched for the second half after questioning a punting decision on fourth down in the second quarter. Cole Stoudt took advantage of the opening, completing 15 of 23 passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns on a day that certainly did not hurt his chances at emerging atop the three-man race come August. Kelly, meanwhile, went 10-for-18 for 118 yards with two interceptions. The defense was credited with 14 sacks, though the quarterbacks weren't live. The White team beat the Orange team, 23-5, in front of a record 33,000.

It's often too easy to draw general conclusions and overreact to what we all see during a team's main public display at the end of each spring. That is probably the case when looking at the Cardinals' Friday night fireworks. Redshirt sophomore Will Gardner threw for 542 yards and four touchdowns, leading the offense to 951 total yards and 11 touchdowns. Most of it came against the second-team defense, which underscored the feeling exiting 2013: The secondary is in need of some depth, especially after losing Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor. Is Bobby Petrino's first offense that good? Is his secondary that bad? Probably somewhere in between, though roughly 27,500 were entertained.

The defense was the main storyline ever since the end of the 2013 season, though Ryan Williams' ACL tear last week brought a new concern to the forefront. Still, the Hurricanes had to be pleased with how Mark D'Onofrio's unit performed on Saturday, with safeties Jamal Carter and Dallas Crawford leading the way with five tackles apiece. The defense won the game, 61-60, thanks to an unconventional scoring system. And, more importantly, it held Miami's new quarterbacks in check, with Kevin Olsen going just 7-of-21 for 65 yards and a pick and Gray Crow going 9-of-20 for 63 yards and a pick. Juwon Young and Tracy Howard came up with the interceptions.

Quarterbacks took center stage in Chapel Hill as well, with neither incumbent Marquise Williams nor challenger Mitch Trubisky offering much in way of clarity. Williams completed 22 of 32 passes for 135 yards and an interception. Trubisky went 20-for-32 for 183 yards and an interception. Larry Fedora liked the decision-making from both of his signal callers on Saturday and knows he has two capable signal-callers, but he isn't offering any public hints about who his guy will likely be come this fall. The Blue team, by the way, beat the White team, 38-17.

The defense (Blue) dominated the injury-depleted offense (White), coming up with four interceptions and nine total sacks (albeit two-hand touch sacks). Greyson Lambert looked like the best of the Cavaliers' quarterbacks, completing 18 of 31 passes for 220 yards with two touchdowns and two picks. Incumbent David Watford went just 4-of-14 for 31 yards with two picks, while Matt Johns completed 6 of his 19 throws for 43 yards. Lambert and the Virginia coaching staff attributed the redshirt sophomore's improved play to a clear head, as he has taken pressure off himself this time around and looks like the front-runner, as he was voted one of four captains by teammates, along with Anthony Harris, Henry Coley and Kevin Parks. He was also one of 13 players -- and the only quarterback -- named to the leadership council.

The Panthers drew plenty of attention early for announcing that they would not hold a traditional spring game. Still, their "Field Pass" event on Sunday at its South Side headquarters drew more than 3,000 who came and listened to presentations from defensive coordinator Matt House, offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph, strength and conditioning coach Ross Kolodziej and recruiting coordinator Dann Kabala. A big theme around Pitt this spring has been the program's youth, but that storyline moved closer and closer toward its depth, which has been tested lately with injuries to running backs James Conner (sprained left knee) and Isaac Bennett (sprained left shoulder), who will have surgery but is expected to return in time for fall camp. Pitt held its 14th spring practice before Sunday's fan event and will conclude its spring season Tuesday.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
Enjoy the weekend, gang.
Clemson’s defense has come a long way since that disastrous 2012 Orange Bowl, when West Virginia ran up 70 points against the Tigers in a game that defined the public perception of the unit for the better part of the next two seasons.

Now, as Clemson wraps up its 2014 spring practice, it’s the offense with question marks and the defense that coach Dabo Swinney thinks could be one of the nation’s best.

[+] EnlargeDabo Swinney
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyClemson coach Dabo Swinney is confident his defense will be a strength this fall.
“We’re going to be really salty on defense,” Swinney said. “I don’t have any doubt our defense is going to be much better."

The progress started in earnest last season, when Clemson led the nation in tackles for loss. But while the front seven thrived in 2013, the secondary was still a work in progress, particularly at safety, where three freshmen lined the Tigers’ two-deep depth chart. The inexperience left Clemson particularly vulnerable on the deep ball, and the results were predictably frustrating. The secondary posted strong numbers in the aggregate, but specific struggles turned games.

“We were top-15 in the country in passing defense,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. [Note: Clemson was actually No. 16 nationally.] “What does that mean? It means we gave up too many big plays.”

Indeed, the overall numbers -- even on deep balls -- look pretty good. Opposing quarterbacks completed just 37.5 percent of their throws of 15 yards or longer in 2013, according to ESPN Stats & Info, with 10 interceptions to go with five TD passes.

But dig into specifics, and that’s where some of Clemson’s defensive struggles come into focus.

• Against Georgia in the season opener, Clemson allowed three passing plays of 30 yards or longer. The heroics of Tajh Boyd and the offense still managed to overcome UGA’s big plays, and Clemson escaped with a win.

• Against Florida State, the Tigers’ D allowed a whopping seven passing plays of 20 yards or more -- or one out of every five throws Jameis Winston made in the game. It was a season-defining loss for Clemson.

• For the season, Clemson allowed 16 passing plays of 30 yards or longer, fifth-most in the ACC, in spite of being one of the conference’s top defenses overall.

• On third-down plays in 2013, Clemson allowed nine passing plays of 25 yards or longer. Only five AQ-conference teams in the nation allowed more.

But though the big plays in the passing game were a concern last fall, Venables has reason to feel more comfortable in 2014. Like the young defensive linemen who struggled so badly in 2011 and 2012 only to develop into a force last season, the safeties who were burned at times in 2013 are now more seasoned. And when it comes to matchups, Venables likes what he has at the position.

“We needed to improve there, and I believe we will. We’re longer, more athletic overall,” Venables said, pointing to Jayron Kearse (6-4, 205), Jadar Johnson (6-2, 195) and converted receiver T.J. Green (6-3, 200) as prime examples. “I really believe we’ll be really good at safety. It’s hard for me to throw many compliments, so I really believe in those guys. [They’re] all long, 6-2-plus. They can cover up some ground. They have a physical presence to them.”

Add in the physical presence from its four returning starters on the defensive line, it’s easy to see why Swinney calls this perhaps the most complete defense he’s had at Clemson.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Venables' work in the secondary is done. While the safeties struggled at times in 2013, Clemson could rely on corners Bashaud Breeland and Darius Robinson to keep opposing receivers in check. Both are gone now, along with Will linebacker Spencer Shuey, and Venables said those positions will be the key to the defense’s success in 2014.

Still, there’s plenty to work with at Clemson, and there’s a good chance it’s the defense that will carry the load for the Tigers this fall, especially early in the season.

“Last year, I felt the front seven would be a strength, but we were going to be a little vulnerable in the back end,” Swinney said. “But this year, we’re going to be a complete group. … And any time you have a chance to be dominant on defense, you have a chance to win a bunch of games.”

ACC spring games preview

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
Seven ACC teams will play their spring games this weekend, and eight will officially close spring practices in the coming days, as Pitt has opted to have a more fan-friendly event instead of an actual spring game on Sunday before closing practice on Tuesday.

For all of these teams -- including Florida State -- the quarterbacks will be among the most-watched players on the field. In Tallahassee, fans will get a chance to see the Heisman Trophy winner, returning starter Jameis Winston. At every other school, there is an ongoing storyline and competition with the quarterbacks. We’re giving you one additional thing to keep an eye on that might not be so obvious.

Check it out, and enjoy the games this weekend!


When: 4 p.m. on Saturday (ESPNU) and on WatchESPN

Where: Death Valley

One thing to watch: The true freshman wide receivers. Artavis Scott, Demarre Kitt and Kyrin Priester were all highly touted recruits who enrolled early to help Clemson try to replace Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant (a combined 2,292 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns in 2013).


When: 3 p.m. on Saturday (ESPN) and on WatchESPN

Where: Doak Campbell Stadium

One thing to watch: The wide receivers. They haven’t exactly earned high praise from coach Jimbo Fisher, who called the receivers out last week for not getting open and making catches. Rashad Greene is the most experienced option as the Noles try to replace Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, but the staff also needs to see more from players like Bobo Wilson and Kermit Whitfield.


When: 7:30 p.m. on Friday

Where: Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium

One thing to watch: The safeties. Louisville lost Hakeem Smith, who started 51 straight games, and projected first-round draft pick Calvin Pryor. Jermaine Reve, Gerod Holliman and Chucky Williams are the leading candidates for those spots, but Reve is out for the spring with an injury. Reve and Holliman are the only players with game experience.


When: 6 p.m. on Saturday (ESPN3)

Where: Sun Life Stadium

One thing to watch: Defense, defense, defense. It’s been an area of concern, but the defense showed signs of progress this spring. The Canes return eight starters and 16 players from the two-deep depth chart. Denzel Perryman is now playing middle linebacker, and Dallas Crawford moved to safety to give that position a boost. Those within the program have said repeatedly that the defense has made strides since last season, and overall it was a good spring for the defense. We’ll see if they can punctuate it in the spring game.


When: 3 p.m. on Saturday (ESPN3)

Where: Kenan Stadium

One thing to watch: True freshman running back Elijah Hood. The four-star recruit was rated the nation's No. 9 running back in the Class of 2014 by and No. 80 overall in the ESPN 300. The early enrollee has had such a good spring that he could see some immediate playing time, even though the Tar Heels are deep at the position.


When: 1 p.m. on Saturday

Where: Carter-Finley Stadium

One thing to watch: More young wide receivers. NC State has to replace Quintin Payton and Rashard Smith, both starters from last year. The talent pool to choose from includes a host of sophomores and freshmen, including two early enrollees. The leading sophomore candidates are: Jumichael Ramos, who finished the last three games of 2013 strong; Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who led the team in receiving at one point last year as a true freshman; and Bra'lon Cherry, who suffered a season-ending injury against Duke. Freshmen Bo Hines and Stephen Louis enrolled early, and redshirt freshman Gavin Locklear is also in the mix.


When: 1 p.m. on Saturday

Where: Scott Stadium

One thing to watch: Improved wide receivers. This is a group coach Mike London has praised this spring, for both its height and athleticism, as the staff has moved toward a longer, leaner look. London recently singled out Miles Gooch, Keeon Johnson and Kyle Dockins -- all listed at 6-foot-3 -- as players who have excelled this spring. Unfortunately, fans won’t be able to see starter Jake McGee, the Hoos’ star tight end who moved to receiver this spring, as he’ll be sidelined with a hamstring injury.

PITT (No spring game)

When: From 2-4 p.m. on Sunday, Pitt will host its “Pitt Football Field Pass”

Where: The UPMC Sports Performance Complex

One thing to watch: Instead of a game, Pitt will hold a public event that will include a kids’ clinic, an offensive strategy session with coordinator Joe Rudolph, a defensive strategy session with coordinator Matt House, a recruiting session with coordinator Dann Kabala and a strength and conditioning session with assistant coach Ross Kolodziej.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
Thoughts with all those affected Wednesday in Pittsburgh.
CLEMSON, S.C. -- Dabo Swinney says he’s not concerned about the quarterback position at Clemson, but that doesn’t mean he has an answer on who’ll be the starter. He has three candidates for the job, but no clear-cut favorite.

At wide receiver, there’s more mystery. He’s lost three stars to the NFL in the past two years, and that made for some slim pickings during practices this spring.

For Swinney’s Tigers, this is uncharted territory. For the past three seasons Clemson had been defined, as much as anything, by its star quarterback, Tajh Boyd, and its immensely talented receivers, led by Sammy Watkins. This spring, Swinney has had to turn the page, but he’s not interested in revamping his expectations. This year, he insists, is not a crossroads for Clemson.

“Maybe we’ve got to refocus a little bit, but I don’t see it as reloading or rebuilding or any of that,” Swinney said. “It’s just next man up.”

[+] EnlargeVic Beasley
Tyler Smith/Getty ImagesWith Clemson's offense in flux due to personnel losses, Vic Beasley and the Tigers defense might have to pick up the early slack.
During the Boyd-Watkins era from 2011 through last season, no ACC team had a more prolific offense (486 yards per game), a more potent passing attack (311 yards per game through the air) or moved at a faster pace (79 plays per game) than Clemson, and the Tigers used that dynamic offensive attack to win an ACC title (in 2011), an Orange Bowl (in 2013), spent 46 straight weeks in the AP top 25, and won at least 10 games in each season.

But as Clemson looks ahead to life without its two biggest stars on offense -- not to mention starting tailback Roderick McDowell and left tackle Brandon Thomas -- Swinney doesn’t see a changing of the guard. Instead, he sees as veteran a roster as he’s had with the Tigers.

Last year’s depth chart featured just 10 seniors, Swinney said. The 2012 team had 11. This season, 19 seniors dot the roster -- it’s just that the bulk of them are on the side of the ball that, for much of the Boyd-Watkins era, was viewed as a weak link.

“This will be the most complete defense that I’ve had here, led by six seniors up front,” Swinney said. “Any time you have a chance to be dominant on defense, you have a chance to win a bunch of games.”

It’s an interesting dynamic, Swinney said. When defensive coordinator Brent Venables arrived in 2012, he inherited a young, untested unit that took time to coalesce. Now, Venables' group will likely do some of the heavy lifting early in the season while offensive coordinator Chad Morris and Co. work out a few kinks on the offensive side.

“You look at what’s happened over the last three years, and it’s been the opposite,” Morris said. “But we don’t want to rely on anybody else to control our destiny, and I think our guys are going to be a lot better than people expect.”

But even if the offense clicks early, the game plan figures to be new, too. While Boyd and Watkins blossomed in recent years, the running game often took a backseat for the Tigers. The split was particularly pronounced last season, when injuries in the backfield left Morris to lean more heavily on Boyd. Clemson’s running backs accounted for just 333 rushes last year -- about 32 percent of the Tigers’ total plays.

That formula figures to be flipped in 2014, as a deep stable of running backs offers a myriad of options for Clemson. Injured veterans are returning to action, while redshirt freshman Wayne Gallman has coaches drooling. While the QB situation remains in flux, Swinney said a focus on the ground game actually fits the approach he prefers for the offense.

“It may very well be that we end up running the ball more,” Swinney said. “But to be honest, that’s what we always want to do. It just -- last year, we got a little bit more skewed because it was what we had to do to win games.”

Of course, it’s spring, and that makes it a bit easier to put a positive twist on the new regime. Still, replacing the likes of Boyd and Watkins is no easy task, and with Georgia and Florida State looming in the first month of the season for Clemson, the coaching staff has its work cut out for it.

But that, too, is part of Boyd’s and Watkins’ legacy, Swinney said. The past three seasons weren’t simply about wins and losses. It was about building a culture at Clemson, and now this year’s senior class is just eight wins away from becoming the winningest in school history.

That says a lot about where Clemson is as a program, Swinney said, and that means the bar for 2014 won’t be set any lower than it had been with Boyd and Watkins leading the charge.

“Offensively, we’re not changing the standard,” Swinney said. “The expectation is the same. We expect to be one of the best offenses in the country. I’m not sure yet who’s going to be pulling the trigger, but I think we’re going to be really, really good.”

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
What a year for UConn hoops.
The decision of Clemson coaches this spring to allow their quarterbacks to "go live" and be hit by defenders has stirred some controversy, and it was further fueled this week by the news that true freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson broke his collarbone as a direct result of that decision and will be out for three weeks. ACC reporters Andrea Adelson and Heather Dinich debated whether the decision was worth the risk:

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
AP Photo/Anderson Independent-Mail/Mark CrammerClemson freshman QB Deshaun Watson will miss the rest of spring after suffering a collarbone injury during a 'live' practice.
AA says: Hands off the QBs!

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney can defend his decision all he wants, but there is absolutely no reason to allow quarterbacks to go live against their own teammates.

I can explain it pretty easily:

You let your quarterbacks get hit, and you increase their chances of getting hurt.

Exhibit A: Quarterbacks went live in a scrimmage on Monday, and Watson, a promising freshman, ended up with a slight crack in his collarbone. He is out for the spring game, though he will be ready when fall practice rolls around. The situation could have been much, much worse, but luck does not change the fact Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris made a reckless choice this spring.

How is it that countless rules protect quarterbacks in games, but Clemson coaches failed to protect their own players during practice?

Quarterbacks are football players, yes, and they need to absorb hits. They need to perform when 300-pound defensive linemen are coming after them, but it is totally unnecessary to increase their injury risk in practice. Swinney says evaluating his quarterbacks in live action has been “priceless.” So priceless that one quarterback has gotten hurt and the competition to replace Tajh Boyd remains wide open. Watson has paid a price, and the logic here has not even been justified.

Not when Swinney says there is “no obvious front runner” in the quarterback race and the competition will go into August. Boyd, by the way, had the luxury of wearing the standard no-contact jersey over the last several seasons in practice. So did all the other quarterbacks on the roster, including Cole Stoudt and Chad Kelly.

The situation should be no different for Watson, Stoudt, Kelly and every other quarterback this spring. They do not have the notoriety Boyd had, but that does not mean they should be exposed to taking unnecessary hits. Protect Boyd but not these quarterbacks? Against a defensive front that could be the best in the ACC? It makes no sense.

Kelly told the Post and Courier, “I've never really been a fan of having the quarterback live. I kind of said something last week; ‘Coach, you couldn't do that the first two years I was here, what's up?’ … Talking to former quarterbacks, they're like, ‘What, are you crazy?’ The coaches make the calls and I've just got to do what I've got to do.”

Kelly provides a unique point of view, since he sustained a non-contact knee injury last spring. There are always risks when you play football, but there is no need to amplify the risk -- especially at the most important position on the field.

HD says: Let ‘em loose.

Swinney has said this spring that he thinks he has three quarterbacks who have futures in the NFL. Most observers of the program think this will be the best defense Clemson has had under Swinney. One way -- the best way -- to help determine who will be Clemson’s starting quarterback this fall was to turn that defense loose this spring and see how those rookies responded.


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Just a minor setback,” tweeted Watson, whose collarbone injury was a direct result of the coaches’ decision to have the quarterbacks go live. Watson carried the ball into the line and got blasted.

He also learned how to take a hit -- just like Clemson’s starting quarterback will feel in the season opener against Georgia. Or in the third game against Florida State. Both games are on the road, against two of the toughest opponents of the season -- in September. If Clemson’s quarterbacks aren’t prepared to handle their own defense this spring, it’s going to hurt a whole lot worse against one of those teams.

Allowing the defense to actually hit the quarterbacks (you know, like they do in football), is obviously not the popular choice in the offseason, but in an offense like Clemson’s -- one in which the quarterback’s ability to run with the ball is crucial -- it’s worth the risk in such a close competition. As Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris told Aaron Brenner of the Charleston Post & Courier: "They've got to feel like they can get hit; otherwise, how can we make a fair assessment of a guy, when a pocket breaks down around him, with a quick whistle? You can't. When the pocket breaks down, who's making plays and who isn't?"

Quarterback Chad Kelly, who never seems to be at a loss for words, told Brenner he’s “never really been a fan” of having quarterbacks go live. He’s walking proof, though, that there’s an equally great risk when they don’t. Remember, Kelly tore his ACL in last year’s spring game without even feeling a breeze from a defender.

Hardly a “minor setback.”

With only two healthy quarterbacks left for Saturday’s spring game, odds are the coaching staff won’t allow them to go live. At this point, there’s no need to.

There’s also no need to apologize for doing their jobs and evaluating their quarterbacks the very same way they will this fall.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 8, 2014
Apr 8
First prediction I've gotten right all tourney.
The quarterback competition at Clemson is now down to two -- at least for the remainder of the spring.

Freshman Deshaun Watson, one of the top QB recruits in the Class of 2014, will miss the remainder of spring practice -- including Saturday’s spring game -- after suffering a slight crack in his collarbone during Monday’s scrimmage.

Coach Dabo Swinney said Watson played the entirety of the scrimmage and wasn’t sure when the injury occurred, but Swinney said Watson should be back practicing within three weeks. The injury will not require surgery.

“It’s a shame because he was having an outstanding spring,” Swinney said. “I hate that he’ll miss the spring game, and I know a lot of people were anxious to see him make his debut in Death Valley.”

Watson was competing for the vacant starting QB job with senior Cole Stoudt and sophomore Chad Kelly. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris said Watson was a unique talent with a bright future, but even before the injury the chances of the freshman edging out his more experienced competition after the spring game were slim.

“I can’t see it being Deshaun right now,” Morris said last week. “I don’t think he’s got enough time to beat them out. But I think he’s commanded everybody’s attention going, 'Hang on, look out.'"

Watson, who was ranked as the No. 16 overall recruit and top dual-threat quarterback in this year’s signing class, enrolled early at Clemson this spring to compete for the job. While Morris considered Watson a longshot candidate -- he's worked largely with the No. 2 offense this spring -- he didn’t discount the chances his freshman could secure the job at some point this year.

“He’s going to be really special,” Morris said. “I don’t know what he’ll do in fall camp, but I know this: We’d love to redshirt him, but if he’s given the opportunity to play, he’s a guy that if the door opens for him, he may never look back. He’s got that type of ability.”

Instead, it will be Stoudt and Kelly trading punches in Clemson’s spring game. Stoudt is the more seasoned veteran, with 86 career passing attempts under his belt as Tajh Boyd’s backup the past three seasons. Kelly, however, brings more mobility to the job, and Clemson coaches have given him a chance to showcase his athleticism by allowing quarterbacks to be hit during scrimmages this spring. It's unclear whether the live contact played a part in Watson's injury.

While Swinney has said there is no timetable to make a decision on the starter, Morris admitted there was a benefit to setting a depth chart soon, both in terms of setting the stage for one QB to take command of summer workouts and establishing a game plan for the offense.

“If it’s Cole, he’s not quite the runner that Chad and Deshaun are, and we have to adapt to him,” Morris said. “That’s OK, we can do that. But if it’s Chad or Deshaun, you might be more zone-read than you are anything. I really like my guys. I think we’ve got three of the best guys — there are people all over the country that would love to be in the position we’re in.”