The Tigers began what figures to be a three-way battle to succeed record-setting
passer Tajh Boyd with the start of spring practice Wednesday.
“I can’t wait to see how it plays out,” Boyd said.
Neither can Clemson fans, who have grown comfortable with the durable Boyd under center the past three seasons. He threw for nearly 12,000 yards and an Atlantic Coast Conference record 107 touchdowns.
But Boyd’s time is done – he’ll audition for NFL personnel on campus today at Clemson’s pro day – and coach Dabo Swinney is looking for a replacement among longtime backup Cole Stoudt, redshirt freshman Chad Kelly and freshman Deshaun Watson.
Swinney said this week that Stoudt, who’ll be a senior next fall, will get first crack simply because “somebody has to go out there first.”
But Swinney says he and the coaches will be swayed by whoever plays the best.
“At the end of the day, it’s about scoring touchdowns and who can get that done,” Tigers offensive coordinator Chad Morris said.
Stoudt, the son of former NFL quarterback Cliff Stoudt, has had the most experience, mostly mopping up after Boyd led the Tigers to a big lead and the outcome was no longer in doubt.
Still, he’s completed more than 72 percent of his passes and had one interception in 119 career attempts. He’s spent the most time behind Boyd drilling in Morris’ high-tempo system and has shown ability to move the Tigers.
“We were all competing together and making each other better,” Stoudt said. “When the coaches weren’t there, we were coaching each other to get better.”
Chad Kelly also has an NFL quarterback pedigree – he’s the nephew of ex-Buffalo Bills great Jim Kelly – and a confidence that’s evident each time he takes the field.
“Then there’s the wild card,” Boyd says of Watson.
The freshman was one of the country’s top dual-threat high school quarterbacks who accounted for more than 17,000 yards of offense at Gainesville High in Georgia.
“This is a big playbook and it’s not easy for a freshman to come in and learn it,” Kelly said.
Stoudt looked the sharpest at practice while Kelly also was on target during the workouts. Watson, perhaps nervous, missed on some throws in his first official college practice.
Morris said not to look too deeply at anything that happened out there.
“It was a good first day,” Morris said. “But that’s all it was, a first day.”
The last time Swinney had a quarterback decision came in 2009 when Kyle Parker beat out Willy Korn for the starting job. Once Parker left two seasons later, Boyd stepped in and led Clemson to an ACC title and a 32-8 record.
Swinney doesn’t expect to have a winner after the spring game next April 12 unless one of the candidates blows the others out of the water the next month. He’s looking forward to the competition because whoever wins should be able to help Clemson build on what Boyd’s accomplished.
“It’s not a situation where we don’t have talent at that position,” Swinney said. “For us, who gives us the best chance to win on Saturdays right now? That’s the process we’ve got to sort out.”