Take 2: Should QBs 'go live' in the spring?

April, 8, 2014
Apr 8
4:00
PM ET
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.

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