As fall camp approaches, I will be proffering my breakdown of each position group with an analysis of each player, in depth chart order. Naturally, I will begin with the most important position--quarterback.
In contrast to July of last year, there is no debate about who should and will be Clemson's starting QB for the upcoming season. Assuming no one reading this has recently suffered from amnesia or a coma, there's not much to say here that you don't already know. Watson is not only one of the most talented returning QBs in the nation, he is unquestionably the leader of this team.
With Watson under center the entire season, Clemson is probably the favorite to win the ACC and has a legitimate shot at the College Football Playoff. If Watson were to be sidelined like last season, the Tigers could easily lose 3 or 4 games.
Many Clemson fans saw the brilliance of Watson last season and found themselves wondering what could have been if he had avoided injury and started all season. Clemson might have beaten Florida State. They certainly would have beaten Georgia Tech. Even if he wouldn't have made the difference against Georgia, Clemson could have been 12-1 with an ACC title and perhaps a spot in the CFP.
All of those hypothetical considerations are painful and moot, but it illustrates the importance of talent and depth at the quarterback position. Ohio State--a team Clemson beat in the Orange Bowl just over a year ago--was able to win a national title despite losing their top TWO quarterbacks over the course of the season. Let's hope it doesn't come to that, but here's a look at Clemson's reinforcements behind Deshaun Watson as well.
By all accounts, redshirt junior Nick Schuessler has elevated his game and locked up the backup role entering fall camp. The 6'3, 195 lb. QB from Grayson High in Georgia looked poised and confident as he commanded both the Orange and White teams in Clemson's annual spring game. He left little doubt in his mental and physical wherewithal to take on the mantle of leadership if his number is called.
Schuessler simply looked overwhelmed when he spelled the struggling Cole Stoudt against Georgia Tech last season, but it seems the light has since come on for him. Dabo Swinney sang Schuessler's praises all spring, and the Orange & White Game revealed why.
Schuessler is an accurate passer and also has sneaky fast speed on designed runs and when the pocket collapses. He knows the offense well and is playing with confidence, which is critical. Look for freshmen Kelly Bryant and Tucker Israel to push Schuessler as time advances, but for now Schuessler is one bad play away from being the signal caller in Death Valley.
Hopefully, Schuessler's signal calling will primarily come from the sideline for the duration of the season. If Clemson can build a big lead early in its first couple of games, he could get some valuable game experience in relief of Watson. That will make Clemson fans feel even more comfortable with their backup should injury befall Watson once again.
The Clemson family will welcome another of the Bryant family this season, as the cousin of the Pittsburgh Steelers' rookie sensation, Martavis Bryant, joins the team.
The younger Bryant, Kelly, is a dual-threat QB listed at 6'4, 205 lbs. With a nimble time of 4.5 seconds in the 40, Bryant has excellent "football speed" and ample moves in the open field. Kelly is also a strong runner and breaks tackles well. He is reminiscent of the Cam Newton or Vince Young ilk but slightly smaller.
Bryant was named Upstate Player of the Year by the Greenville Touchdown Club and was one of the five finalists for South Carolina's Mr. Football award. He threw for 3,579 yards last season and accounted for an impressive 55 TDs--41 through the air and 14 on the ground.
Bryant is not as polished as Deshaun Watson was coming out of high school last year--few players are--but he has the potential to be the QB to whom Watson passes the torch in a couple years. If Watson were to go down to injury again (God forbid), Bryant could be the one to whom Dabo, Scott and Elliott turn to lead the attack while Watson convalesces.
At this point in time, Schuessler would undoubtedly fill that role, but if it happens later in the season or Schuessler should struggle, Bryant could get his opportunity. If nothing else for 2015, it is comforting to have a talented QB like Bryant on the roster to provide depth and competition.
Clemson has a bright star in Israel. All puns aside, 6'1, 195 lb. incoming freshman Tucker Israel shattered several of the major high school QB records in the state of Florida, passing the likes of Tim Tebow, Duante Culpepper, Danny Wuerffel and Tommie Frazier, among others.
Israel's records for career TDs and passing yards surpassed the runners-up by about 40 and 3,500, respectively. As a junior, the QB from Orlando set the record for single-season passing yards and then surpassed it by 500 yards as a senior with 4,446. His 56 TDs as a senior were 10 more than Tim Tebow's single-season record.
Israel holds Florida records for single-game passing yards, career passing yards, career completions, career passing touchdowns, single-season passing touchdowns and single-season passing yards.
Unlike Watson and Bryant, Israel is a traditional pocket quarterback, so he might not be as well-equipped for the Clemson offense, but make no mistake: the kid can throw. Despite his diminutive Drew Brees-like stature, Israel is sublimely accurate and has a razor-sharp football IQ. If something were to happen to Watson this season, Israel would probably be the least likely replacement because of Scheussler's experience and Bryant's dual skill set, but Israel will certainly provide depth and make the QB competition interesting down the road. Israel will likely redshirt in 2015, depending on who emerges in camp between Bryant and himself.
Clemson Football Preview: QB
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