ACC: Dabo Swinney

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has lodged a letter of complaint to Clemson, charging coach Dabo Swinney and his staff with "unconstitutional behavior" at the public university.

Among the concerns outlined in the complaint by the FFRF, based on information obtained from an open records request: Swinney personally invited James Trapp to become team chaplain, in violation of the Constitution and university guidelines on hiring chaplains; the coach schedules team devotionals and has organized transportation to take coaches and players to "Church Days;" and has given Trapp access to the entire team for Bible studies.

University spokeswoman Cathy Sams issued a statement saying the school would evaluate the complaints raised but believes Swinney and his staff are not violating the Constitution.

"Participation in religious activities is purely voluntary, and there are no repercussions for students who decline to do so," the statement said. "We are not aware of any complaints from current or former student-athletes about feeling pressured or forced to participate in religious activities."

Swinney is not being made available to comment, but he has been outspoken in his religious views. In December, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that Swinney tells recruits on visits, "I'm a Christian. If you have a problem with that, you don't have to be here."

The report itself presents in great detail how religion and the program are entwined.
Former Clemson quarterback Chad Kelly, who was dismissed from the team this week, apologized for his behavior, according to the Associated Press.

It was a family affair, as Kelly issued a statement Wednesday through his uncle, Dan Kelly, the vice president of Jim Kelly Inc. Chad Kelly is a nephew of former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly.

According to the Associated Press, Kelly said he apologized to Clemson's coaches and said he let "emotions get the best of me."

Kelly was benched in the second half of Clemson's spring game last week after arguing with the coaches over their decision to punt on a fourth-and-short. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney confirmed he will name Cole Stoudt as the team's starting quarterback next Monday.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
Never forget.
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.

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.
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.”
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.”
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.


Should quarterbacks be allowed to ''go live'' and be hit by defenders during spring practices?


Discuss (Total votes: 2,091)

Like #toughguys.

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.
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.”

ACC Friday mailblog

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
Talk to me ...

Greg in Washington, D.C., writes: Heather, reading some of the stories about Dave Clawson coming out of the Wake Forest spring practices, the inevitable comparisons to Jim Grobe have brought to mind a couple of questions: First, did the program really get that stale under Grobe? The on-field results and consistently mediocre recruiting over the previous four or five years sure seemed to indicate that complacency had inundated the program, but there were never stories about a lack of turnout at workouts and lateness to meetings (which is the implication behind the stories that all of a sudden the players are springing into action with Clawson at the helm). I guess everyone thought that Grobe was too nice a guy to come right out and say that he lost the edge? Or maybe we're just in the midst of the typical "change of culture" story that occurs whenever a new coach arrives? Second, how do you think that Clawson is balancing the "new sheriff in town" routine, which runs the danger of getting old and losing the team (see Randy Edsall at Maryland), with truly instilling a winning attitude by providing clear expectations and the support/instruction necessary to achieve them? Thanks, as always, for your insights.

HD: I don't think Grobe ever lost his edge. Don't forget that Grobe's name was once associated with openings at Arkansas, Michigan and Nebraska, but he opted to stay at Wake Forest and continue to build something. Wake's decline was a combination of factors, and if anything was going to change after last season, I thought it would have been the offensive coordinator position. To me, Wake's two biggest problems the past few years have been finding an offensive identity and a slide in recruiting. Granted, all of those things fall back on the head coach, but I don't think it was a matter of complacency within the locker room or Grobe's ability to coach on game days. They didn't have the answers, talent or depth to combat injuries on the offensive line, and never really settled on a scheme that worked for them. They also set a standard they couldn't maintain with the 2006 team. Dave Clawson will run into similar challenges regarding recruiting at Wake Forest, but he's doing exactly what he has to do and should do to get this group to buy in. I don't think he's in danger of "losing the team." It seems like they are ready to embrace the change and want to be better. Wake Forest can definitely be better, and should be a more consistent bowl team, and every now and then surprise a Florida State or Clemson. Grobe proved that. Now it's up to Clawson to not only prove it again, but to maintain it.

Jim in West Friendship, Md., writes: Who wins the QB competition at Clemson? Also, can they compete with FSU this year, or this a rebuilding year after losing Tajh and Sammy?

HD: First, let me ask you a question. I live in Maryland, too, and I swear I see more Clemson paws on cars, hats and T-shirts around here than the Terps. (Well, OK, maybe not that many, but it seems unusually high.) What gives? As for the quarterbacks, not even Dabo Swinney knows that answer, and I sincerely doubt he will until the summer. I thought it was a great idea to let the QBs go live in the last scrimmage to help separate them and see how they respond, and I also think we'll know more after the next scrimmage, when Cole Stoudt will get a chance to handle the opening drive. As for competing with FSU ... heck yeah, they'll compete. Clemson should still be a Top 25 team and the No. 2 team in the ACC. The Tigers could have a better defense than FSU this year, and at the very least, it should be an elite defense that keeps them in the hunt for the ACC title. My vote goes to reload, not rebuild.

Jason in Miami writes: How many games will the Canes win this year? And after FSU, who seems to be their toughest opponent?

HD: I can't even get past the season opener against Louisville, Jason, as far as predictions go. I have no idea who's going to win that one. If it were at Miami, I'd pick the Canes, but on a Monday night, nationally televised, Louisville's first game in the ACC? That might be your answer right there to the second question, especially considering what happened in the bowl game (*shudders). There's also the Thursday night game in Lane Stadium. A trip to Nebraska. Oh, and don't forget Duke did win the Coastal Division last season and can do it again. I think the Canes win at least seven games, but I still don't see them taking the leap from good to great. Ask me again after Week 1. I think that game against Louisville will tell us a lot.
Cole StoudtTyler Smith/Getty ImagesSenior Cole Stoudt has the most game experience of all the Clemson signal-callers.
CLEMSON, S.C. -- Halfway through spring practice, the battle for the starting quarterback job at Clemson remains indistinguishably close, so coach Dabo Swinney decided to add an extra degree of difficulty for the three QBs jockeying for position on the depth chart.

When the Tigers hit the field for their first scrimmage of the spring Monday, it was live contact for everyone -- including the quarterbacks. That’s something Swinney hadn’t done before, but with senior Cole Stoudt and third-year sophomore Chad Kelly battling to a draw in non-contact jerseys, it was time to see what they’d do with the pressure on them.

“From an evaluation standpoint,” Swinney said, “we needed it.”

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
Radi Nabulsi/ESPNEarly enrollee freshman Deshaun Watson, who was ranked No. 16 in the ESPN 300, has impressed this spring for the Tigers.
And yet, the results weren't particularly illuminating: No sacks, no turnovers, and no better indication of who’ll be taking the snaps for Clemson when it opens the season Aug. 30 at Georgia.

Kelly took both the first and the most reps with the first-team offense, and he said he felt good about his performance.

When the Tigers scrimmage again next week, offensive coordinator Chad Morris said it will be Stoudt handling the opening drive, and Morris offered praise for his senior, too.

Working with the second- and third-team offenses, even early enrollee Deshaun Watson managed to make enough plays to wow his coaches, making the race to replace Tajh Boyd all that much tougher to project.

“I was hoping someone would separate himself and make it clear cut that this was the guy,” Morris said. “I thought you’d see some quick separation [this spring]. But it hasn’t [happened], and that’s a good thing for us because they’re all three doing really well.”

Each quarterback brings something to the table.

Stoudt, who has three years of game experience as Boyd’s backup under his belt, has been the calm, cool and collected veteran. Kelly, whose mobility makes him a more versatile weapon, can ride an emotional roller coaster at times, but he’s also adept at firing up the offense with his theatrics. Then there’s Watson, the high school phenom widely projected as the quarterback of the future. He’s well behind the curve in terms of experience, and Morris said it’s unlikely he could win the job this spring, but the freshman is a unique talent.

“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,” Morris said. “He’s got that type of ability.”

We do not have a quarterback problem. I know that's the million-dollar question everybody has their eyes on, but we're going to be just fine at quarterback. It is a very competitive situation. The good news is, we could win with any of those guys.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney.
Clemson didn’t divulge stats from Monday’s scrimmage, but Swinney said each quarterback had some highlights, some mistakes, and led at least one scoring drive. Even with two offensive linemen out with injuries, each quarterback managed to elude the pressure and move the chains. It was a wake-up call for some of the defensive linemen, Swinney said, but it might have also been a big check mark for Stoudt, whose widely seen as the least mobile of the three QBs.

“I’ve proven [Monday] and other games I can make plays with my feet, even if it’s not 40-yard runs,” Stoudt said. “I’m constantly working on that, and I know I’ve improved on that this spring a lot.”

Stoudt said he has an idea of where he stands on the depth chart at the moment, but he wasn’t interested in divulging that insight. Kelly, too, said he was pleased with what he has shown so far, suggesting the coaches’ public comments on the battle may not always reflect where things actually stand.

But if Monday’s scrimmage didn’t necessarily provide answers to the big-picture questions, it at least offered a fresh perspective on the proceedings, and Morris said he expects the quarterbacks to be live again in next week’s scrimmage.

Swinney isn’t sure he’ll be ready to name a starter any time soon. While Morris said there’s cause for anxiety about a two-man race heading into the summer -- “There are two quarterbacks battling for the job, and we’re going to have to make sure the team isn’t two groups,” he said. -- Swinney wouldn’t be opposed to letting the battle play out through fall camp.

It’s the hottest storyline of spring for Clemson, Swinney admits, but the truth is, he’s not concerned about how it all gets resolved.

“We do not have a quarterback problem,” Swinney said. “I know that’s the million-dollar question everybody has their eyes on, but we’re going to be just fine at quarterback. It is a very competitive situation. The good news is, we could win with any of those guys.”
Less than halfway through spring practices, Clemson might have already solved one of its biggest -- and yet most overshadowed -- concerns of the offseason.

Lost in the shuffle of having to compensate for the early departures of receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant, not to mention the graduation of quarterback Tajh Boyd and leading rusher Roderick McDowell, is the fact that record-setting kicker Chandler Catanzaro is also gone.

The offensive holes? No problem for coach Dabo Swinney. He’s said repeatedly there’s still plenty of talent on the roster.

The kicker?

“We just lost one of the best kickers in the history of the school, maybe the best in Catanzaro,” Swinney said before spring practices started. “That right there is the question.”

Ammon Lakip has booted an answer right to him.

Through the first five spring practices, Lakip missed just one kick, and that was from 53 yards. He then rallied and made the next attempt. Following the last practice before spring break, Swinney said Lakip “has been outstanding.”

"We all know how critical that position is,” Swinney said. “If I had to call out a bright spot so far, it would be Ammon."

As the backup to Catanzaro each of the past two seasons, Lakip’s game experience is obviously limited, but he had one of the program’s best kickers to learn from.

Catanzaro graduated after setting 10 school records, and he made 39 of his last 41 field goals over his last three years -- many of which came in the clutch. He left Clemson as its career leader in scoring and the leader in field goals of at least 40 yards with 23.

Lakip scored nine points last season, and was 6-of-6 on extra points and 1-of-2 on field goals.

This spring, he has already given the Tigers reason to believe he ready for the full-time job.
Time to move on in our look at recent streaks in some of the biggest ACC rivalries. The vote on this one should be interesting …

Up today: Clemson vs. South Carolina

The series: Clemson leads 65-42-4.

Last meeting: Nov. 30, 2013: South Carolina 31, Clemson 17. The game was tied at 17 in the fourth quarter, but Clemson couldn’t overcome a ghastly six turnovers -- three fumbles and three interceptions. Quarterback Tajh Boyd threw a pair of interceptions in the final four minutes.

The streak: South Carolina has won five straight over Clemson. It was the first time in the series that Clemson had lost five consecutive games to their rival in a series that began in 1896. With the loss, Boyd finished his career 0-for-4 against the Gamecocks.


Will Clemson beat South Carolina in 2014?


Discuss (Total votes: 4,560)

The skinny: Steve Spurrier and Dabo Swinney have both taken their respective programs to new levels, but Spurrier has further distanced his program from the Tigers with the head-to-head results. Regardless of Clemson’s national ranking, the team always seems to come unraveled during rivalry week with a turnover-prone performance. Spurrier has had three straight 11-win seasons, and the Gamecocks should again be one of the top teams in the SEC East. Clemson should mirror that role in the ACC’s Atlantic Division, but has to contend with defending national champs Florida State. Last year, Clemson earned an impressive win against Georgia -- an accomplishment South Carolina failed to do. In the end, though, the loss to South Carolina lingered with Clemson fans more than the win over Georgia. Until Swinney starts to turn the tables on the school’s biggest rival, his résumé in Death Valley will be incomplete by Clemson standards.

The prediction: South Carolina wins six in a row. Ouch. If Clemson couldn’t beat South Carolina WITH Sammy Watkins and Boyd, why should we give them the benefit of the doubt without their record-setting quarterback, leading receiver and leading rusher? Clemson’s defense is going to be its strength this year, and one would think that by the time November rolls around, the offense will look like a seasoned group and have closed the gap. It’s not like South Carolina doesn’t have questions of its own, having to rebuild the defensive line and secondary. Key playmakers Connor Shaw, Jadeveon Clowney, Kelcy Quarles and Bruce Ellington have all moved on. The difference is that South Carolina has continued to win in spite of previous losses like that. Clemson has more to prove.

ACC's lunchtime links

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
Taking questions for the mailbag. Send them along here.

ACC's lunch links

March, 11, 2014
Mar 11
Miami, NC State, North Carolina and UVa are all on spring break and resume practice next week.