Clemson quarterbacks putting in the work to prove the haters wrong
|Monday, June 12, 2017, 7:01 AM- -|
You’ve heard it before, and you’ll hear it many more times before the start of the season – with the departure of quarterback Deshaun Watson, Clemson will travel back into the dark ages, never to be heard from again.
You’ve heard it from fans in rival fan bases, who are looking for any shred of hope that head coach Dabo Swinney hasn’t built a sustainable program at Clemson. You’ve heard it from Alabama fans, who are still “salty” after being defeated in the National Championship, their brick-wall defense more of a paper imposter when it comes to Clemson.
They’re wrong. You know it and I know it. They forget that Clemson had two 11-win seasons and a 10-win season the three years before the poised kid from Gainesville walked on campus. Clemson is recruiting at an extremely high level right now and double-digit win seasons, while hard to come by, should be the goal for Swinney’s program.
Granted, there could be some growing pains this season at quarterback. You don’t just replace one of the greatest players in ACC history and not expect a hiccup here and there, but Swinney has built a program that is about more than just one player. There are great players all over the roster, on offense and defense, and while the offense may change a few things here and there (maybe even more of an emphasis on running the football) it will still be the Clemson offense.
That brings me to last week’s high school camp, really the first time the media has been around the program since the end of spring practice. It’s a chance to see the players and talk to some of the people that are around the program every day, and I came away from last week’s three-day session even more convinced that Clemson will be in good hands.
Let’s start with Kelly Bryant. I walked past him as he led a group of young quarterbacks out of the indoor practice facility and thought to myself that he’s gotten bigger. In a good way. The hand looked healthy, so I reached out to quarterback guru Ramon Robinson (who works with Bryant) to see if my initial reaction as correct.
“I’ve worked with Kelly since he came back from California (an internship with Adobe), and I can see the glow and confidence I haven’t seen in him since 2014,” Robinson said. “I worked with him today, and he’s fully recovered from the hand injury he had in the spring game. He’s throwing the ball better than he ever has, and he’s just mature and confident. He looks a little bigger, and I think he’s ready to show what he can do.”
That brings us to Zerrick Cooper, the redshirt freshman that many expected to make a big jump during spring ball. He ended the spring second on the depth chart (with true freshman Hunter Johnson), leaving many to wonder if Cooper was on the verge of being passed.
However, it’s easy to forget that when a kid redshirts he doesn’t spend a lot of time practicing with the ones, twos or threes. Instead, a redshirted player spends most of his time on the scout team with very little coaching from his position coach. Other than bowl practice, the spring was Cooper’s first real chance to work with the offense and with quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter.
Cooper has spent his time since spring practice working out and acting as a mentor to Cam Newton’s All Stars, and the word on the street is that he has taken his mental approach to another level. We know he has all the tools and skills to be a winner, and if the mental side of his game catches up with the physical side, look out.
Finally, we get to Johnson, the heralded freshman out of Indiana. I wrote briefly about Johnson during last week’s camp insider, but I have a little intel to add, and it shows the kind of behind-the-scenes dedication it takes to be a winner on the collegiate level.
I was told that one member of the staff went over to the new football operations center one night to retrieve something (about 10:30 p.m.) and noticed the lights were on in the indoor practice facility. He poked his head through the door, and there was Johnson, all by himself.
Johnson had gathered all of the footballs he could find, put the big nets up in the end zone, and was working on his footwork and accuracy. He would go through all of the footballs, gather them all up and start over. When the staffer left, Johnson was still throwing.
Fall camp – and the competition at quarterback – is going to be fun to watch. And for all of the people who hope that Clemson falls back to the middle of the pack, there are three kids who are working hard behind the scenes that want to make sure that doesn’t happen.
A few videos of Ramon Robinson's Sunday workout with Kelly Bryant. Videos courtesy of Ramon Robinson