Clemson's QB battle could heat up in spring game

Kelly Bryant returns as Clemson quarterback but could face some pressure to perform with a talented true freshman joining the Tigers. Dannie Walls/Icon Sportswire

CLEMSON, S.C. -- Hunter Renfrow was in the Clemson Tigers' weight room early in the offseason and found a group of the Tigers safeties working out. They were doing power cleans -- lifting barbells from the ground to overhead -- hitting numbers in the upper 200s, which looked about right.

Then the new quarterback sauntered over and tried it, too.

"He's power cleaning 285 like it's nothing," Renfrow said of Clemson's uber-prospect, Trevor Lawrence. "He's just physically ready."

Long before Lawrence arrived on Clemson's campus in January, fans had pronounced him "ready."

Dabo Swinney said Lawrence possessed all the tools Deshaun Watson had upon arrival, only Lawrence was a better physical specimen as a true freshman.

The recruiting websites all gushed about Lawrence, who broke one Georgia high school record after another -- many of which had been previously held by Watson.

And the fans swooned. With his long, flowing locks and cocksure demeanor, Lawrence is a QB apparently sent from central casting.

There's just one snag in the coronation -- Kelly Bryant isn't exactly planning to pass the baton.

"It's my job, man," Bryant said.

Hard to argue that point. Bryant led Clemson to an ACC title and the College Football Playoff last year, so the idea he'd be set aside for a true freshman seems a bit unrealistic.

Except that this true freshman is Lawrence, as refined a prospect as Clemson has ever had at the position. And in last year's playoff, Bryant and the Tigers' offense abruptly ceased to move the football.

Then there's the additional plot line that came after Clemson's Sugar Bowl loss to Alabama. The Crimson Tide faced off against Georgia in the national title game, trailed at the half behind struggling starting QB Jalen Hurts, then exploded in the second half after Nick Saban benched his veteran for a freshman.

And if it works for Saban, shouldn't Swinney be willing to do the same?

"It worked out then, but it doesn't always work out," Renfrow said of the comparisons to Alabama. "Kelly's been so consistent this spring and done a great job."

So that's the big question. Does Clemson value consistency or potential? Did the Tigers learn where their ceiling was with Bryant when they struggled against Alabama last season? And even if so, is it worth rolling the dice that Lawrence is able to lead them back to the playoff?

The truth is, those outside the program know precious little about Swinney's real mindset. Saturday's spring game will be fans' first live look at Lawrence in a Clemson uniform, while Bryant continues to chug along, shrugging off his next round of critics.

"I proved I could do this, silence the critics. There are still those who will question. But I know what I did last year, and that's confidence for me."

Swinney has been blunt in his assessments throughout. Bryant remains atop the depth chart. Lawrence's future is bright. What happens in September is still to be determined by what happens over the next four months.

But if Lawrence's star shines brightly on Saturday, the pressure to hand the job to the new kid will only mount, and a long offseason of Lawrence-mania could open up a serious debate when fall camp opens.