Dabo Swinney talks quarterback depth chart at 2022 camp


Clemson’s Cade Klubnik at the Tigers’ first practice of 2022 camp on Friday, Aug. 5.

Special to The State

Dabo Swinney didn’t want to waste one minute with Cade Klubnik, the vaunted five-star quarterback recruit and gem of Clemson football’s 2022 signing class.

That’s why the coach put Klubnik at the No. 2 quarterback spot on the depth chart the day he got to campus in January, with the confidence he could “absolutely” play early as a true freshman if needed.

Though DJ Uiagalelei remains the No. 4 Tigers’ clear starter, Klubnik’s performance across two preseason camp scrimmages have further emphasized just how ready the backup is.

“The game has slowed down for him,” Swinney said Wednesday.

“Cade has done an awesome job,” offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter added Monday. “He’s done nothing but continue to get better and better and better.”

Klubnik looked mostly sharp in his unofficial Clemson debut in the Tigers’ April spring game, completing 15 of 23 passes for 106 yards and a touchdown to Uiagalelei’s 17 of 36, 175-yard stat line.

But the early enrollee also took five “sacks” — plays whistled dead since defenders weren’t allowed to hit the purple jersey-wearing quarterbacks — and, as is frequent with freshmen, needed to bulk up for transition from high school to college football.

Consider the latter point solved. The 6-foot-2 Klubnik jumped from 185 pounds in January to 197 in August, making up a frame that the 6-4, 234-pound Uiagalelei doesn’t quite dwarf.

And though Klubnik’s “purple jersey syndrome” is still a lingering issue, Swinney said he’s playing smarter — and more dynamically — in the pocket. Added weight also hasn’t done anything to slow down the former No. 6 national recruit.

“Cade, he’s a problem in the pocket because he’s really, really fast,” Swinney said. “It’s just awesome, because he can really create. It’s good for Clemson. It’s also good for our defense to see some speed like that, because he can really, really run.”

Swinney said Klubnik made “a couple of nice plays with his legs,” including two red zone rushing touchdowns, in Saturday’s opening scrimmage and continued that trajectory in Wednesday’s scrimmage. Both scrimmages were closed to the media.

Take that production with a grain of salt, as Clemson’s quarterbacks were still off-limits from being hit in both scrimmages. Swinney and Streeter have also maintained their confidence in incumbent quarterback Uiagalelei, who’s achieving some dual-threat success of his own.

But the early returns show that the same legs that carried Klubnik to 1,319 rushing yards (6.7 per carry) and 31 touchdowns as a Westlake (Texas) High School starter still hold their own against defensive lines stacked with four- and five-star recruits.

Clemson’s Cade Klubnik at the Tigers’ first practice of 2022 camp on Friday, Aug. 5. Dawson Powers Special to The State

‘There’s competition’ among Clemson QBs

Escapism is one thing. Replicating the passing efficiency that made Klubnik one of the top class of 2022 quarterbacks across every major recruiting outlet is another.

He was 27-0 as a starter his junior and senior years while throwing for 7,426 yards (268.4 per game), 86 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions; that doesn’t translate overnight.

Still, Streeter said a rapidly maturing Klubnik and Uiagalelei are “both just pushing each other and taking steps in a lot of different areas” as Clemson enters its last week of preseason camp.

“There’s no doubt there’s competition,” said Streeter, who is also Clemson’s quarterbacks coach. “There’s definitely competition, but DJ’s the guy right now.”

As for Klubnik actually getting reps? That’s easier said than done with Uiagalelei locked in as the starter for the Sept. 5 primetime season opener at Georgia Tech and beyond, with the long-standing Clemson caveat that he’ll “have to continue to earn it every week,” Swinney said.

The Tigers’ following game, a Sept. 10 home bout with in-state FCS program Furman, is an obvious chance for Klubnik to take some low-pressure snaps in a likely blowout.

“We certainly hope to get Cade as much opportunity as we can,” Swinney said, “just like we wanted to get DJ in as much as we could, as often as we could” in Trevor Lawrence’s final season.

Uiagalelei appeared in 10 games during his true freshman 2020 season and started two in relief of Lawrence during the star quarterback’s COVID-19 isolation period and recovery.

His other eight appearances came in varying forms of mop-up duty during a season that saw Clemson fall to Ohio State in the College Football Playoff semifinals.

“DJ’s going to graduate in December,” Swinney said. “He’s got big goals and aspirations, and he knows what he’s got to do. He’s got to go do it. But hopefully we’ll be able to get Cade as much opportunity as we can.”

Clemson QB depth chart projection

  • DJ Uiagalelei
  • Cade Klubnik
  • Hunter Johnson
  • Hunter Helms OR Billy Wiles

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Chapel Fowler has covered Clemson football, among other topics, for The State since June 2022. He’s a Denver, N.C., native, a 2020 UNC-Chapel Hill alumnus and a pickup basketball enthusiast with previous stops at the Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer and Chatham (N.C.) News + Record. His work has been honored by the Associated Press Sports Editors, the North Carolina Press Association and the Associated College Press.

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