Clemson plays its spring game on April 12, and for the Tigers, a team looking for a quarterback, the recent injury to Deshaun Watson does little for 2014 beyond make the spring battle a true two-horse race. Watson, a 4-star recruit according to 247Sports, will not be forced to sit out the 2014 season, but this setback certainly helps his coaches advance the cause when it comes to redshirting the talent.
Saturday, in Memorial Stadium, the Tigers coaches will not have to battle the hype surrounding Watson. There will be none of the second- and third-team reps that have kept the quarterback in the mix. There will be no chance for Watson to do something special with his athleticism that makes the crowd scream for the youngster.
Instead, Watson will be watching from the sideline as he nurses a cracked clavicle, Greenville Online reports. Although the injury should allow for Watson to return to throwing duties over the summer and compete in fall camp, the quarterback out for the spring game means he misses a chance to wow. As offensive coordinator Chad Morris told ESPN, "We’d love to redshirt him, but if he’s given the opportunity to play, he’s a guy that if the door opens for him, he may never look back.”
Watson having to wait on his awe-inspiring moment means the two leaders of the race, Cole Stoudt and Chad Kelly, will get top billing. Stoudt versus Kelly is the true battle for the starting position, both quarterbacks have been exchanging blows throughout spring, each getting first-team reps.
Stoudt is the most experienced. Kelly was a highly touted prospect in his own right. Both young men want the job, and after spending most of spring keeping Watson at third in the pecking order, the onus is on one of them to step ahead and win the job.
The injury to Watson is not serious enough to force the early enrollee to redshirt in 2014. Similar to Aaron Rodgers with the Green Bay Packers in 2013 and fellow ACC quarterback Anthony Boone from Duke, Watson will be healthy quite quickly. The injury does not require surgery, and as Rodgers and Boone both demonstrated, returning means being healthy enough to play in three to four weeks, not merely cleared for non-contact.
That means if Stoudt and Kelly leave the door open for Watson, the freshman will be plenty healthy to step through it during fall camp. It also means that if Stoudt and Kelly do remain out in front, performing well, Clemson will find it easier to keep Watson under wraps, sitting and learning for the upcoming season.
The Tigers are in good shape as spring comes to a close; the two quarterbacks who have led the competition remain at the top, as Watson is forced to the sidelines. Stoudt and Kelly are going to continue to duke it out, and barring a major mishap, their competition will leave Watson sitting in the third spot once the freshman is healthy.