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March 29, 2009
Clemson QB competition remains tight
CLEMSON, S.C. - Easily the biggest story line of Clemson's spring football practices is the quarterback position.
The bad news is that out of the Tigers' three quarterbacks on scholarship, there's just one start among them. The most experienced is Willy Korn, a rising sophomore who has the most game time under his belt - 127 snaps spanning eight contests.
The good news is that Clemson's staff says it has some pretty good personnel at its disposal.
Coach Dabo Swinney has maintained this offseason that the race for the starting job under center is "too close to call" among Korn, Kyle Parker, a rising redshirt freshman, and Mike Wade, a rising junior.
Swinney did say that Korn and Parker had separated some from Wade. But neither Swinney nor offensive coordinator Billy Napier has offered a hint as to which QB has an edge entering the midway point of spring drills.
Korn, a former Rivals100 member, is entering his third year in the program and does have one start under his belt. Like Parker, a midyear enrollee out of high school, Korn was signed in 2007 with the hopes of becoming the Tigers' next marquee quarterback. He has since had two minor shoulder surgeries.
Parker, also a former four-star prospect and an Elite 11 participant, possesses the stronger arm of the two and has continued to draw kudos from staffers for his work ethic, focus and ability to absorb a lot of data in a short amount of time.
Both have been praised by staffers for their leadership, poise and maturity.
But following Saturday's scrimmage, there's still no clarity as to who could be holding an edge in the race for first-team status.
Korn threw two touchdown passes in Saturday's scrimmage, completing 4 of 9 throws.
"I think I started off really well. Marquan [Jones] made a really nice play on the one touchdown pass," Korn said. "As far as the passing game, it's hard to judge. ... The operation was really well. The biggest negative was the quarterback-center exchange. I had a couple of muffed snaps."
Parker hit on 5 of 12 attempts for 87 yards and three scores in the scrimmage.
"I think I did well, but you're not satisfied so you come out to practice, you're willing to learn more and you get better," Parker said. "I threw some good balls, but I also had some balls I'd take back."
Asked if he had yet to envision serving in a role of being an emotional leader for the team, Parker said, "I wouldn't put the quarterback as an emotional leader, the one that energizes everyone. I'd put him more as the guy who's laid back, someone making plays and getting the ball to the guys who will make plays.
"But I'm excited to get there. I love playing with these guys. We've got a lot of really good players."
Korn, who spent each of the last two seasons working as Cullen Harper's backup, went into the spring as the unofficial front-runner at the position. And he is already embracing the possibility of becoming the Tigers' on-the-field leader on offense.
"It's natural to readjust. When you're second string at quarterback, it's tough to develop leadership skills. They're not going to look to a backup, and that has been my role," Korn said. "But this is a role I look forward to. I've got to get it back to the way it was, my junior and senior years in high school."
Both players have described the race for the top job as "friendly competition."
"I think if you're out there making plays, guys are going to notice," Korn said. "If I'm doing my job correctly, they're going to notice it, so I've got to focus on myself."
Parker, who has been juggling time on the diamond as a starter for Jack Leggett's squad, doesn't believe baseball has deterred his rate of progression on the football field. Earlier last week, Swinney also dismissed any notion that playing two sports has been a distraction for Parker this spring.
"I'm not really thinking about that part. I do the best with what I've been given," Parker said when asked about his juggling two sports. "I'm not too worried about it right now."
Neither is Swinney.
"This is a very good situation," the coach said. "We've got good players there. I know there's a lot of people out there very concerned about the quarterback position, but I'm more concerned about some other spots to be honest with you. I think we've got a couple of good players there who are going to get it done for us."