Spring Football Forecast: Big offseason ahead for young Clemson QBs

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Uiagalelei and Phommachanh went head-to-head for the backup role during fall camp. (ACC photos)
Uiagalelei and Phommachanh went head-to-head for the backup role during fall camp. (ACC photos)

Spring football is right around the corner for the Tigers and we’re analyzing position-by-position how they look going into the next offseason phase.

First up are the quarterbacks, where Trevor Lawrence moves on and another 5-star QB steps into a big role.

2021 Projected Spring QB Depth Chart (2020 snaps/PFF grade)

DJ Uiagalelei - 6-4 250 so. (235/71.1)

Taisun Phommachanh - 6-3 220 r-so. (43/52.6) or

Hunter Helms - 6-1 210 r-fr. (22/74.3)

Clemson spring outlook: Quarterback

David Hood: Let’s face it, the Big 5inco (Big Cinco) era started last season when Uiagalelei filled in for Trevor Lawrence in games against Boston College and Notre Dame.

In the loss to the Irish, Uiagalelei completed 29 of 44 passes (65.9 percent) for a single-game career-high 439 yards and two touchdowns, plus one rushing score. Uiagalelei's first career game with more than 400 yards doubled as the third most by a Clemson quarterback and broke the Tigers' freshman record of 435 set by former star Deshaun Watson (2014-16) Sept. 27, 2014, in a 50-35 win over North Carolina.

The mark doubled as the most ever by an opposing quarterback against Notre Dame, edging a 425-yard performance from former USC star Carson Palmer (1998-02) Nov. 30, 2002. As a fifth-year senior with the Trojans, Palmer completed 32 of 46 passes (69.6 percent) for 425 yards and four touchdowns to two interceptions in a 44-13 win over the Irish.

ESPN analyst Trevor Matich thinks Uiagalelei is the favorite for the Heisman Trophy next season.

“Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei wins the Heisman Trophy,” Matich said on ESPN earlier this year. “When Trevor Lawrence missed the Notre Dame game, Uiagalelei threw for over 400 yards against the Irish without enough experience to even know what opportunities he missed. His receivers will be better next year.”

The real battle in the spring will be between Phommachanh and Helms. Helms didn’t play much but was impressive in his few opportunities, while Phommachanh seemed to struggle. However, I don’t think you can read too much into what happens in blowouts simply because you have a lot of players on the field who didn’t get many reps during the week. But this is a big spring for Phommachanh.

Brandon Rink: With two freshmen set to enroll in the summer here (Bubba Chandler and Will Taylor), the spring is a major marker from a development standpoint for the three QBs on hand. It’s assumed that Uiagalelei takes hold of the starting job, but we'll likely be reminded by Dabo Swinney and co. that he still has to win the job each day in practice.

Physically, Uiagalelei is as ready-made as it comes for a second-year player and he will work on further commanding the playbook in the model of his predecessor. His development in the ground game and pre-snap reads will be tested out of the gates against Georgia in September and that’s something another full offseason -- and maybe a more typical one -- will help with.

With the projected backups, you hope the spring game goes off as scheduled just to see where Phommchanh and Helms are. While not always the strongest indicator, it would have been nice to have seen where Uiagalelei and Phommachanh were going into the summer last year before Uiagelelei surged to the backup role by September. Instead, spring practice was cut in half and we didn't get that final exhibition with a spring game.

Phommachanh was rated as high as the No. 4 dual-threat QB in the nation out of high school and this is a big year to show that potential, whether his college career finishes in Orange and White or otherwise.

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