It’s hard to imagine incoming freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence performing any better in the Clemson spring game. It’s also hard picturing Clemson incumbent starter Kelly Bryant having a worse spring game.
Even before Saturday, there was already considerable hype surrounding Lawrence. He arrived on campus this spring as not only the No. 1 quarterback in the 2018 recruiting class, but 247Sports ranked him the highest-rated player in the entire class.
Then in the spring game, Lawrence threw a 50-yard touchdown on his first series. He finished the day 11 of 16 passing for 122 yards with the score. Meanwhile, Bryant struggled, missing several open receivers and finishing 8 of 15 for 35 yards in the game.
But that hardly means Bryant has lost the inside track in the Clemson quarterback competition.
There’s no doubt that Lawrence is going to be a star one day. If he lives up to his hype — based on his first live action, he will — Lawrence could end up a finalist for every award and a candidate to be the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft one day.
However, it’s important to keep in mind spring games are, at best, glorified scrimmages. As the coaches say, it’s just one practice of many that is part of the spring evaluation process. That doesn’t change no matter how many televisions are tuned into the game.
In some cases, spring games might be the least important practice of all of them. Depending upon the setup of who else is on your spring game team, one quarterback may have a significant advantage over another.
That was the case Saturday in the Clemson spring game. Sophomore Tee Higgins is, by far, the most talented receiver on the Tigers roster this year. In the spring game, Higgins caught 4 passes for 118 yards and 2 touchdowns. Lawrence and fellow backup quarterback Hunter Johnson had the advantage of throwing him passes, one of which was Lawrence’s 50-yard score.
This fact doesn’t take away from the freshman’s beautiful throw, but clearly, having Higgins on his team in the spring game was a significant advantage.
And while the Clemson coaching staff can talk all it wants about the quarterback battle and the spirit of competition in practice, Bryant’s play last season should mean something. He wasn’t exactly an Average Joe, as he completed 65.8 percent of his passes for 2,802 yards, 13 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. He also rushed for 665 yards and 11 scores.
There’s room for improvement, but his biggest caveat is the fact he didn’t play well against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Well, breaking news, very few quarterbacks do.
So, Bryant isn’t Deshaun Watson — well, Lawrence might not be as a freshman either.
If anything changed after the Clemson spring game Saturday, Lawrence closed the gap between Bryant and himself. But it’s hard to overtake anybody in just one practice.
Entering the summer, Bryant should still be considered the front runner to be behind center when the season begins Sept. 1. If Lawrence is going to beat him out for the job, he will need more practices like Saturday.