Established ACC QBs face challenges during spring practice
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — This spring was a busy one around the Atlantic Coast Conference — especially for the returning quarterbacks who won division titles last season.
In a conference in which its only new head coach wasted no time getting comfortable in his new position and Louisville developed a replacement for its only Heisman Trophy winner, the main subplot revolved around the seemingly secure QBs who are trying to keep their jobs.
That list includes both of the starters in last year’s ACC championship game, Kelly Bryant of Clemson and Malik Rosier of Miami.
Bryant, who took over for Deshaun Watson in 2017 and led the Tigers to their third straight ACC title and third consecutive playoff berth, was pushed by highly touted freshman Trevor Lawrence and sophomore Hunter Johnson.
“We’ve got a really good situation,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “Never had quite this type of situation where we’ve got really four guys (along with Chase Brice) that I think could go win with, literally. I think we could go win with any of those guys.”
The Hurricanes wrapped up spring practice with Rosier facing a challenge from early enrollee Jarren Williams and others. When coach Mark Richt was asked following the final spring scrimmage if the competition was open, he responded “absolutely ... until the bitter end.”
Some things to watch around the ACC when preseason camps open during the summer:
CLEMSON’S QB BATTLE
Swinney has an embarrassment of riches with Lawrence and Johnson — the nation’s top recruits in both 2018 and ’17, respectively — competing with Bryant, who accounted for 24 touchdowns while leading the Tigers to a 12-2 record. Lawrence broke Watson’s Georgia high school records for yards passing and touchdowns, and Johnson was rated as the nation’s top high school quarterback two years ago and played some as Bryant’s backup.
“Last year, we were starting over, and Kelly had no experience and Hunter was just getting here, trying to figure it out ... and Trevor wasn’t here,” Swinney said. “So I think we’re going to be in a much better starting point than we were this time last year.”
EMBRACING THE PAST
Willie Taggart, the league’s only new coach in 2018, is taking over for Jimbo Fisher at Florida State and one of his first moves was to reconnect the Seminoles’ tradition-rich past with their present — even bringing back Bobby Bowden for the spring game. “I didn’t feel we were really connected like we needed to be,” said Taggart, a native Floridian. “So we tried to put emphasis on just getting everyone back involved, people that built the program and made it to what it is today, and let them know we appreciate it. I think it’s important that our football team understand those people that came before them as well. Because they’re a big reason why they decided to come to Florida State.”
A LONG PASS
Jawon Pass has the tough job of following a Heisman Trophy winner at Louisville, having spent two years as Lamar Jackson’s understudy. At 6-foot-4 and 231 pounds, Pass probably won’t tuck it and run quite as often as Jackson did when he won the Heisman two years ago — though coach Bobby Petrino says Pass does run the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds. “He can throw the ball, he’s big, he’s got good vision,” Petrino said. “He’s also fast, you know?”
It might be difficult to find a tougher player in the league than Syracuse QB Rex Culpepper, who threw a touchdown pass in the spring game less than a month after being diagnosed with a treatable form of testicular cancer that doctors later discovered had spread to his abdominal lymph nodes. He’s undergoing chemotherapy and hopes to be cleared to play this season.
“He goes to class with a smile on his face. He comes to practice with a smile on his face yet he’s a very, very serious competitor,” coach Dino Babers said. “Anytime you’ve got a young man at that age that’s so focused and so determined, and he knows what he wants most, and he’s not willing to trade that in for something at the moment, that person’s going to always be a positive reflection, not only on himself and his family, but also on his teammates.”
AP Sports Writer Gary B. Graves in Louisville, Kentucky, contributed to this report.
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