CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Veteran Kelly Bryant is Clemson’s starting quarterback, holding off promising freshman Trevor Lawrence.
The second-ranked Tigers open the season Saturday at home against Furman. The team released its first depth chart Monday with Bryant on top in the closely watched competition.
“Those guys went and battled. Kelly knew what was at stake and responded the right way and earned the position that he’s in right now,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter let Bryant know he’d won his position again late last week.
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“That was good to hear,” Bryant said.
No matter who starts, Swinney has said Lawrence will play this weekend.
“I’m just excited to get out on the field and see those guys perform,” Elliott said.
Bryant started last season and led Clemson to a 12-2 record and a third straight Atlantic Coast Conference championship and College Football Playoff appearance.
But a 24-6 loss to eventual national champion Alabama in the semifinals where Clemson’s offense was ineffective led some Tiger fans to look to the 6-foot-6 Lawrence to take over.
Lawrence was the country’s second-best college prospect, according to ESPN. Lawrence also put on the best show back in April at the team’s spring game, completing 11 of 16 passes for 122 yards that included a picture-perfect, 50-yard touchdown throw to Tee Higgins.
Lawrence came to campus having eclipsed the Georgia high school records for total passing yards and passing TDs — formerly held by Clemson national championship passer Deshaun Watson.
Still, Swinney had indicated that Bryant was separating himself from Lawrence and freshman Chase Brice as fall camp pushed on.
Bryant said he stayed calm and focused through the offseason, confident he could maintain his spot.
“I feel like when I come out here and step on the field, I am the starter,” Bryant said. “I try and be the leader for all the guys.”
Bryant showed a different style last season from Watson’s throw-it-down-the-field approach the previous two years.
Bryant was selective in his passes and finished third on the Tigers with 665 rushing yards. He was second with 11 rushing touchdowns.
He completed 262 of 398 passes for 2,802 yards, with 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 2017.
However, Clemson’s passing yards of 3,297 was its fewest in a season since throwing for 2,543 yards in 2010.
Receiver Amari Rodgers, a sophomore starter, was fourth on the team with 19 catches last season. Rodgers was confident the coaches had made the right choice in Bryant.
“Kelly, he’s a leader of the team, so I wasn’t surprised because he’s been the role before,” Rodgers said. “I’m happy for him and I’m happy for this whole team.”
Bryant emerged from a competition a year ago where he out-played then highly regarded, strong-armed freshman Hunter Johnson to take over Watson’s spot.
Johnson has since transferred to Northwestern.
Bryant led the Tigers to three top-15 victories over Auburn, Louisville and Virginia Tech his first five games. Clemson’s only regular-season loss came at Syracuse, when Bryant was knocked out with a concussion before halftime.
Bryant helped the Tigers rout Miami 38-3 in the ACC Championship game.
Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell thought Bryant took his game up a notch in the face of Lawrence’s push.
“Kelly played his best ball I’ve seen this whole entire summer,” Ferrell said.
Bryant shook off the buzz about Lawrence and put in the work to stay on top.
“It was challenging for me, but I wouldn’t want it (any) other way,” Bryant said. “I didn’t want anything to be handed to me. I wanted to prove and work my butt off to be the guy.”
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