Johnson's transfer adds urgency to getting Lawrence ready to play this fall
|Monday, May 21, 2018, 12:47 PM- -|
And then there were three, adding urgency to getting Trevor Lawrence ready to play this fall.
Clemson exited the 2017 season with six scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, a good problem to have when it comes to the rough-and-tumble world of big-boy college football.
Clemson will enter the 2018 season with just three scholarship quarterbacks on the roster after the news broke Monday that Hunter Johnson intends to transfer. Tucker Israel and Zerrick Cooper both decided to transfer after the season, with Cooper landing at Jacksonville St. Israel has yet to pick a home – he wanted to graduate from Clemson first – while Johnson will likely wind up somewhere closer to home.
Johnson hails from Brownsburg, Indiana, and could wind up at Purdue or Northwestern (where his brother played) after sitting out the 2018 season.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said the Tigers felt good about heading into the season with four quarterbacks.
“Well, we've got a really good situation,” Swinney said. “Never had quite this type of situation where we've got really four guys that I think we could go win with, literally. … I think they're all really working hard to be the best version of themselves. They're all at different spots.”
Before Monday’s news, it was assumed that Johnson would head into fall camp with a shot at the starting spot. He battled redshirt freshman Chase Brice, true freshman Trevor Lawrence and incumbent Kelly Bryant all spring and drew rave reviews.
That’s all out the proverbial window, and Bryant is left with Lawrence and Brice to battle once August camp begins.
Bryant led the Tigers to 12 wins, an ACC Championship and a berth in the College Football Playoff. For the year, Bryant threw for 2,802 yards, 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions while gaining 665 yards and scoring 11 times on the ground. He finished the year on a low note, however. In the College Football Playoff semifinal matchup against Alabama, Bryant completed only 18-of-36 passes for 124 yards and two interceptions.
Johnson and Lawrence were expected to make a major push this spring for Bryant’s starting role, but Monday’s news seems to point out that Lawrence had an edge and will very much be in the mix for playing time.
Johnson was rated by Rivals as the second-best pro-style quarterback recruit in the 2017 class. He appeared in seven games in 2017 as a true freshman, completing 21-of-27 passes for 234 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception.
Johnson served as a backup behind Bryant, splitting mop-up snaps with Cooper.
So where does that leave the Tigers heading into the fall?
Clemson played three quarterbacks last season, but the only playing time that came because of injury was when Bryant was knocked out for the second half of the loss to Syracuse. Cooper came in to replace Bryant and was ineffective at best. The rest of the snaps – both Cooper and Johnson – came in mop-up duty at the end of games. Clemson heads into the season with just one quarterback (Bryant) who has taken a snap in a college game.
The coaches said all spring that they felt comfortable with any of the quarterbacks starting in September and the competition would likely bleed into the fall.
"Regardless of where we are today we've got a long way to go before we play in September, and no matter what happens in September I don't think the competition's just going to end," Swinney said. "I think we've got guys on the roster that are going to be driven each and every day to either be the guy or beat the guy out or make the guy better or whatever it may be."
There was a small – very small – chance that Lawrence might have redshirted this fall. Ok, less than minuscule if that’s possible. But, if Bryant had taken hold of the starting spot, or Johnson with Bryant second on the depth chart, the coaches could have elected to let Brice (who redshirted last season) be the third option.
That is all a moot point, now, and you can believe that the coaches will get Lawrence ready to play sooner rather than later. Fall camp, which was already shaping up to be interesting, just became even more so. Even if Bryant starts, there will be a heavy dose of Lawrence early and often.