Spring preview: Trevor Lawrence managing high expectations leading Clemson QBs

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Trevor Lawrence started strong and will lead a team with high expectations in 2019.
Trevor Lawrence started strong and will lead a team with high expectations in 2019.

Spring practice starts next week for the reigning national champs ahead of a season carrying as high as any expectations in school history.

We're analyzing where the Tigers stand going into spring by position - starting with a Heisman contender and a talented group around him with the quarterbacks.

Clemson quarterbacks

Roster (scholarship)

Trevor Lawrence - sophomore (6-6 215)
Chase Brice - redshirt sophomore (6-2 220)
Ben Batson - redshirt freshman (6-0 200)
Taisun Phommachanh - true freshman (6-4 205)

Three questions

What can Trevor Lawrence do for an encore?: The rising sophomore took the college football world by storm last fall and had the kind of season that will be hard to replicate.

He impressed his teammates and coaches during spring practice, took over the starting job from Kelly Bryant on September 29 against Syracuse and the Tigers finished the season by winning every game (after Syracuse) by 20 or more points. Lawrence helped Clemson win the ACC Atlantic, the ACC Championship, a win over Notre Dome in the CFP’s Cotton Bowl and destroyed Alabama in the National Championship.

Lawrence finished his freshman season by throwing for 3,280 yards and 30 touchdowns. He threw only four interceptions in 397 attempts. Did we mention he became the first true freshman starting quarterback to lead his team to a national title since Oklahoma's Jamelle Holieway in 1985, and only the fourth freshman quarterback to beat Alabama head coach Nick Saban?

How do you top all of that? Another National Championship? A Heisman Trophy?

All of that and more is still on the table for Lawrence, but his quarterback's coach thinks there is plenty of room for Lawrence to improve.

“Obviously, there are things he has to work on and get better at, and he knows that,” Brandon Streeter said. “And he is mature enough to know that he has to continue to learn. But he is well beyond his years, for sure.”

Lawrence figures to be better next season because the Clemson offense has so many weapons and playmakers it has a chance to go down as one of college football’s best. The offensive line loses two starters but might actually be better and three of last season’s top running backs return, including starter Travis Etienne.

The offense loses all-time great receiver Hunter Renfrow and the steady Trevion Thompson, but Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross and Amari Rodgers will only get better, and there are plenty of other playmakers waiting in the wings, including 5-star recruits Joseph Ngata and Frank Ladson.

Lawrence even figures to be a better runner this season – he has long strides, is powerful, and got better at executing the read-option as the season progressed. Clemson fans and coaches might gasp every time they see him carrying the football in the open field, but he has the athletic ability to make big plays with his feet.

So what does all of that mean? There aren’t a lot of big things Lawrence has to do to get better. For him, it’s simply refining his game and improving the little things. With so many playmakers at his disposal, he just has to be Trevor Lawrence. And that’s plenty good enough. - David Hood

Could Taisun Phommachanh be the next Deshaun Watson?: All current and future Clemson quarterbacks will be compared to Watson – and probably freshman phenom Trevor Lawrence at some point – but few will live up to that comparison and expectation.

However, quarterback’s coach Brandon Streeter told TigerNet before the national championship that he sees a lot of Watson in Phommachanh.

At 6-3, he completed 339 of 556 passes for 5,224 yards and 46 touchdowns against 12 interceptions … also had 300 rushes for 1,264 yards and 25 touchdowns, giving him 6,492 yards of total offense and 71 touchdowns during his high school career.

Phommachanh isn’t as polished as Watson at this point of his career but the skillset is there for him to be a factor in the quarterback room.

My guess is that Swinney and Streeter will treat Phommachanh like prior freshmen quarterbacks and will allow him to dress and travel to all away games while trying to preserve his redshirt. With the new redshirt rule, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get a few snaps once games are firmly in hand. - Nikki Hood

How does the backup battle unfold?: The QB picture is far less complicated than it was entering 2018, where Lawrence’s early enrollment made for six on the roster in January.

By end of that month, that number was cut to four due to transfer and the spring game seemed to set the tone for two more to depart. Lawrence showcased his ability for the Orange team with a 50-yard touchdown pass to Tee Higgins and it wouldn’t take long to the same in real game-action during the season.

The obvious difference in 2019 is there is no doubt at the No. 1 spot - is it just as obvious for the No. 2 role?

Brice was firmly in the picture for a starting role according to Dabo Swinney in fall camp and a strong showing in the spring could leave no doubt where he stands this season. The rising redshirt sophomore impressed in spot duty last season - most known for the effort versus Syracuse in helping lead the Tigers from down two scores late to preserve the undefeated run. If he stays content to bide his time behind Lawrence, Brice figures to be the favorite here.

On campus to make things interesting this spring is four-star early-enrollee Phommachanh, who was rated as high as the No. 4 dual-threat QB in the nation coming in. Much of Phommachanh's nearly 6,500 total yards came before his senior campaign, however, where an injury (leg) limited him to 1,066 passing yards, 163 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns over six games. Lawrence set a high bar for freshman spring debuts but Phommachanh will get his showcase in April as to just where he is from an instant-impact standpoint.

Redshirt freshman and Central native Ben Batson gets an early opportunity this spring to make a name for himself on the depth chart also in competition with Brice and Phommachanh. He starred as a dual-threat for Dorman with nearly 3,000 total yards in a run to the state finals. - Brandon Rink

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