Notre Dame believes progress for backup quarterback Phil Jurkovec will not require any major changes.
To the Irish, the solution for Jurkovec is not as complicated as overhauling his throwing motion or tweaking his mechanics. The 6-foot-5, 227-pound sophomore already dabbled with that approach, and to no avail.
Restoring Jurkovec’s confidence marked the first step toward his improvement. The Gibsonia (Pa.) Pine-Richland product came to campus last season with lofty expectations attached to his four-star rating as a recruit. Yet Jurkovec spent his freshman year in the shadows, throwing just two passes in mop-up duty.
Jurkovec’s spring football campaign seemed to increase his lingering dejection. Sunday marks the first time Jurkovec will return to organized football activity since his underwhelming Blue-Gold Game performance. Notre Dame begins preseason training camp in Culver, Ind. and practices daily at the Culver Academies through Thursday.
The Irish forecast a different Jurkovec come training camp and beyond, though work remains to be done.
“We just want him to get back to being confident about who he is, and I’ve seen that,” said Irish head coach Brian Kelly in Friday’s press conference. “I’ve seen the way he walks around this building now. I think you’re going to see a guy that’s had really good success this year.”
In previous offseasons, Jurkovec trained with quarterback coaches to refine his throwing motion. That’s not how he spent this past summer. Jurkovec stuck to the regimen provided to him by quarterbacks coach Tommy Rees and the Irish staff.
During his two months away from campus, in May and June, Jurkovec simply trained with athletes from the Gibsonia area. No tweaks or in-depth quarterback training was necessary.
“We don’t touch it. We stay away from it,” said Kelly on Jurkovec’s throwing motion. “I’ve always philosophically stayed away from motions. It’s just you’re entering into an area where they’ve had so many reps at it.
“Let them be who they are. I think, by and large, most of it is the mental aspect of the game. Get their confidence back, work on their footwork. If you do those things, I think you’re better off.”
Frequenting the weight room became Jurkovec’s primary objective. Five times per week, Jurkovec trained under Bill Nichol at Outer Limits Athletics Performance. He began working with Nichol during eighth grade.
Nichol customizes his scientific training for each athlete. For someone returning from school like Jurkovec, Nichol provides a tune-up of sorts. The goal was to restore Jurkovec back to the height of his athletic abilities.
“I didn’t see anything specifically with Phil that seemed too far off,” Nichol said. “We corrected everything before he left. He probably had a little bit of tightness (in his shoulder), but we corrected that before he left to make sure that was taken care of.”
Having a short-term memory will be required of Jurkovec if he wants to solidify himself as the heir apparent to starting quarterback Ian Book. Even in the short term, one play could make Jurkovec the starting quarterback in ND’s Sept. 2 opener at Louisville.
Any despondency did not linger for Jurkovec, Nichol said. He approached his workouts with the same tenacity and optimism as before. Jurkovec moved forward with his goals and refused to dwell on the negatives.
“He’s not really that guy,” said quarterback trainer Darnell Dinkins, who did not train Jurkovec this summer but spoke with him often. “He just talked about enhancing some things like getting more consistent with his throws and getting more snap and velocity on them.
“But other than that, there was not a lot of down talk or negative talk. It was always about wanting to improve.”
The Blue-Gold Game might not have provided an accurate representation of Jurkovec’s game. He could not run or scramble much with legs, which accounted for 1,211 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns as a senior in high school.
Defenders could not hit the quarterback and were credited with a sack when reaching within their vicinity. Jurkovec yielded 12 sacks and finished 15-of-26 passing for 135 yards.
“I’ve seen him do amazing things in the gym that other people can’t do,” Nichol said. “Without that positive mindset, there’s no way that he would have been able to accomplish that. That confidence is there. It’s definitely in him, and I will never doubt that ever.
“I can compare him to thousands of athletes that I’ve seen in high school, and he’s top three. You don’t see too many quarterbacks that can run like a running back and have the feel to make those kind of cuts.”
Going forward, the Irish hope Jurkovec embarks a natural progression — one that’s not in spite of convoluted tinkering. Kelly indicated that any major repairs to Jurkovec’s throwing motion came in high school or were self-imposed, or both.
The following weeks should provide a better idea on if Jurkovec benefited from his simpler approach this offseason.
“We knew the talent level that was there,” Kelly said. “First year, there’s high expectations. There’s a lot going on. He lost a little bit of his confidence at times. He’s going to be fine. We can see that.
“He’s the kind of guy that we feel like is going to really blossom this year. We’re looking forward to watching him in camp, and he’s going to get plenty of opportunities to continue to grow.”