Clemson Football is closing in on the start of spring practice, and there will be some interesting position battles, assuming the Tigers have better health than in 2022 when a significant number of players missed time. Most eyes will be on the defensive line, left tackle, and wide receivers.
The quarterback position received a lot of attention in 2022, but for the most part, there seems to be a good idea of how the position will shake out this year. Cade Klubnik has taken charge of the offense and is expected to start in 2023 for Garrett Riley’s new offensive system.
Like Klubnik in 2022, it is expected that a well-regarded freshman will step into the backup role. Christopher Vizzina is an incoming 4-star prospect from Birmingham, Alabama.
On the surface, Vizzina has everything needed in a prospect: he has the right frame, a strong arm, is athletic, and has the right attitude. He has everything you want in a quarterback except experience.
Many fans hoped Klubnik would come in last spring and show the potential to be ready to play right away like Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence. It took Klubnik a little longer to get his feet underneath him in the college game.
While Vizzina shows promise, there is also the very real chance that he won’t be ready to play right away. If he acclimates at the same pace as Klubnik, he would be ready later in the season. If Klubnik were to be injured in September, playing Vizzina heavily could be risky.
That contingency is exactly why the Tigers took their second veteran quarterback from the portal in two seasons, signing former Alabama and Arizona State player Paul Tyson.
Because Tyson’s transfer is reminiscent of Hunter Johnson, who transferred back to Clemson after time at Northwestern, the assumption from many is that he is just an insurance policy in case both Klubnik and Vizzina are injured and can’t play. Johnson rarely saw playing time in his lone season with the Tigers after transferring back in 2022.
There are a couple of notable differences between Johnson and Tyson, and the circumstances surrounding them. First, Johnson had only one season of eligibility remaining when he arrived last summer. Tyson redshirted with the Tide in 2019 and then didn’t play in 2020. Following the 2021 season with Alabama and 2022 with ASU, Tyson still has two seasons of eligibility remaining.
The offensive coordinator/quarterback coach is different too. Johnson returned to Clemson to play for Brandon Streeter, who was his position coach when he originally signed with the Tigers in 2017. Streeter knew who Johnson was and didn’t need to see him in person to know how he would fit in his offense.
Riley will be seeing all three quarterbacks with fresh eyes, and we don’t know who will take to his offense quickly and who will take more time to pick it up. The presumption is that the order of talent is Klubnik, Vizzina, and Tyson. As we saw last year at TCU, who excels earliest might not be determined by talent or experience, and who excels most, in the long run, might be different.
Max Duggan was the incumbent starter at TCU when Riley arrived, but the Frogs decided to start transfer Chandler Morris, who was talented but far less experienced. Morris was injured early in the season, which brought Duggan back into the starting role. From there, TCU went undefeated in the regular season and Duggan ended up as a Heisman finalist.
TCU’s 2022 quarterback battle under Riley was unpredictable, and his first offseason with Clemson Football could be unpredictable as well
We don’t know if Morris would have had a great season if he hadn’t been hurt, but what we know is the experienced incumbent didn’t impress Riley enough right away to earn his job back. Was Riley in error choosing Morris? Or did it just take more time for Duggan to grasp his system?
Either way, the odds that anyone ends up beating Klubnik for the starting job are slim, but it’s not as far-fetched to think that Tyson might grasp Riley’s offense better than Vizzina, who will be relatively green.
It would not be surprising if Tyson gets the nod as the primary backup who would step in if Klubnik was injured, especially early in the season.
That doesn’t mean that Vizzina wouldn’t get playing time, even if he is technically 3rd string. The staff would still likely put more weight on Vizzina’s development for the future in a garbage time situation, while they possibly could feel more comfortable with Tyson stepping into the starting role with the bulk of the snaps if Klubnik can’t go.
Hopefully, with good injury fortune, all three will have their chance to make their case this spring.