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Phommachanh's Advantage Over Uiagalelei is Experience in Clemson's System

While much of Clemson's backup quarterback battle will focus on  Trevor Lawrence's heir apparent D.J. Uiagalelei, don't forget about the QB with one less recruiting star and a much lesser amount of hype: Taisun Phommachanh.

Clemson's backup quarterback battle will be one of the hottest topics when the Tigers begin fall camp Friday. 

While most the attention will be on Trevor Lawrence's heir apparent D.J. Uiagalelei, don't forget about the QB with one less recruiting star and a much lesser amount of hype.

Taisun Phommachanh, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Bridgeport, Conn., native, has one distinct advantage over his competitor: experience in Clemson's system.

It might not seem like much. Phommachanh only saw action in three 2019 games and attempted just 12 passes, but it's an entire year and then some in the program that has quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator Brandon Streeter excited about the sophomore's improvement. 

"In the beginning of the (2019) spring, he was all over the place," Streeter said.
"Like any quarterback coming in, trying to learn the offense, not having confidence, and then by the end of the spring he started to settle down. Had a really good (2019) spring game. Very impressed with that. The time where he really improved was the end of spring and the beginning of summer camp because he was able to take the whole summer to regurgitate the offense and make all those throws again and go through the 7-on-7s that (the players) put together."

It wasn't an easy season last year for Phommachanh because most of the reps in practice went to Lawrence and Chase Brice, who transferred to Duke in the offseason. That meant he had to take mental reps, which isn't easy for a young player to focus on when they know there is little to no playing time reward. 

"He did such a good job of being engaged and watching," Streeter said. "I was on him all the time, 'Just stay locked in, you never know, you're a few plays away.' He did an excellent job."

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Will that diligence pay off this fall? Uiagalelei will be stiff competition. The California kid was the highest-rated quarterback of the 2020 class and possesses the size and arm to play at the next level. Phommachanh knew when he signed up to play for Clemson that there would always be competition at the key position, and he has shown no signs of shying away from it.

"He's not just a great kid character-wise, but he's got the legs to be explosive as a runner, very, very explosive," Streeter said. "He's got the arm to distribute the ball to the guys on the perimeter." 

Phommachan completed six passes for 85 yards in 2019 and added 56 rushing yards in limited duty, but that year of learning the playbook could give him the edge over Uiagalelei. Streeter said pocket presence and knowing when to check down to a running back after going through the third and fourth progressions is hard to teach a young player. You have to go through it on the field and learn from mistakes.

Uiagalelei did have a shortened spring to do that but fall camp will be integral for his development and movement up the depth chart. Meanwhile, Phommachanh, who ran with the second team in spring practices that were open to the media, has already shown Streeter that he can get better. Now it's up to the redshirt sophomore to prove he knows where to go with the ball and can make good decisions at full speed, an area Streeter is expecting progression.  

That's ultimately what he'll need to do to separate himself from the super-talented freshman.

"I've been impressed with (Phommachanh's) improvement," Streeter said. "He just learned so much more."