Notre Dame football notebook: QB Zaire out for Temple game

ERIC HANSEN
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND - Brian Kelly was optimistic but had a backup plan just in case.

The Notre Dame head football coach figured freshman quarterback Malik Zaire was far enough along in his recovery from mononucleosis that he would be healthy and available to be the No. 3 quarterback for 14th-ranked Notre Dame’s opener Saturday against Temple (3:30 EDT; NBC).

Zaire’s bloodwork Thursday morning said differently.

Kelly’s emergency option behind starter Tommy Rees and backup Andrew Hendrix will be quarterback-turned-wideout-turned-temporary quarterback Luke Massa. Massa took extended snaps this week in practice as a QB for the first time in three years.

“We were hopeful he was on the back end of it,” Kelly said of Zaire’s bout with mono. “And we were really hopeful we were going to get him cleared (Thursday), but he just didn’t get cleared, so we’re going to be hopeful for Monday.”

Massa, a 6-foot-4, 237-pound senior from perennial national prep power Cincinnati St. Xavier, has not played in a game for the Irish at any position since making scattered special teams appearances in 2011.

He was recruited to Notre Dame as a quarterback, first committing when Kelly was the head coach at the University of Cincinnati, then followed him to ND when Kelly landed the Irish job in December 2009.

After redshirting in 2010, Massa moved to wide receiver but has yet to make a catch. He stayed connected to the QB position as one of the players signaling in plays to the starter on gameday Saturdays.

This season he’ll also be the Irish holder on extra points and field goals.

“He’s a great teammate, and he’s a kid who does whatever we ask him to do,” Kelly said. “And for a guy who had two days, three days of work (at QB), it’d be nice if we got him in the game and it wasn’t because of injury.”

Kelly is mindful of having plenty of quarterbacks ready. During the 2008 season at Cincinnati he went through five different starters because of injury. The Bearcats still made it to the BCS stage that season.

While at ND, Kelly’s starting QBs have missed at least one start because of injury in two of his first three seasons.

What will Plan B look like?

Kelly is open to, but not sold on, whether he’ll use some sort situational quarterback packages to complement starter Rees this season.

What he is definite about is that No. 2 quarterback Andrew Hendrix has evolved.

“He's no longer a niche quarterback,” Kelly said. “I mean, he can run our offense. Last year, the year before, we had to run special packages for him.

“We're going to take advantage of some of the things he can do. He can run. He's a physical runner. So we may have some more quarterback runs ... (but) we don't have to turn the playbook inside out to put Andrew Hendrix into the game.”

Scout teamers

Notre Dame’s scout-team quarterbacks the last three seasons have largely been comprised of Gunner Kiel (2012), Everett Golson (2011) and Hendrix (2010).

Kelly announced earlier this month that freshman Zaire won’t be following in that lineage, instead taking his snaps with the regular ND offense.

This week, two players shared scout-team duties — senior Will Cronin and freshman Rashad Kinlaw.

Cronin is a 5-11, 180-pound walk-on from Immaculate Conception High School in Elmhurst, Ill. Kinlaw is a scholarship cornerback who played quarterback extensively as a high school junior in 2011 and the small part of his 2012 senior season that wasn’t wiped out by a broken leg.

On Golson...

As exiled Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson begins this 2013 season as a bystander, Irish offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said the junior’s university-imposed suspension for academic misconduct could end up being a blessing.

“Time will only tell,” he said. “As I tell him, ‘The story’s not finished. You’re going to write the end of the story. Everybody else can guess at how you’re going to be when you’re 30. You may look back when you’re 30 and say, “Thank God that happened at that point in my life when I can really learn and grow from it.” ’

“That’s how I always approach it. It doesn’t always end happy like that. Sometimes kids keep doing things that they maybe regret, and that’s just who they become. But I’ve seen a lot of kids do something they wish they had back, and it was a defining moment in their life. And they’d say ‘never again’ and ‘I’m going to cherish what I have ’cause all of the sudden I didn’t have it for a little bit of time in my life.’ ”

Golson, ND’s starter for 11 of the 13 games in last year’s 12-1 season, is eligible for reinstatement in January.

Squibs

•The Irish coaches have seen enough positives in cornerback Josh Atkinson’s audition at wide receiver this week that the process will continue.

The return of Lo Wood from an injury and the rise of freshmen Devin Butler and particularly Cole Luke, were among the factors that had pushed Atkinson out of the two-deeps at cornerback.

“He’s going to take time,” Kelly said Thursday night. “The guy can fly. He’s fast as heck. I mean, he can run, (but) it’s going to take us a little time. We want to keep his skills as a DB, but there are a lot of DBs that can play (and) I want to try to find a place to get him on the field.

“We’re trying to get some routes that he can handle. He’s got to catch the ball more consistently. ... I don’t know when that’s going to be, but we’re all in and it’s going to take some time for him.”

•The spring sensation on offense, converted safety C.J. Prosise, has had a relatively quiet August, but Kelly said the sophomore slot receiver still will fill an important role for the Irish.

“C.J.’s been steady for us,” Kelly said. “We’re going to ask him to do some specific things. He’s not going to be that guy, like Robby Toma. Robby was on the field a lot for us. He’s going to do different jobs, and he’s going to do them well for us, but he’s not going to be an A-to-Z slot receiver like Robby was.”

• Wide receiver James Onwualu and Luke are the two freshmen Kelly cited Thursday as having improved the most during August training camp.

“He went from a guy that was a try-hard guy to he’s catching the ball much more consistently.” Kelly said of Onwualu. who made the two-deeps.

“I think Cole Luke, his ability to play corner at this level as a true freshman and nickel — that’s a lot. Now you’re playing multiple coverages. There are a lot of things on his plate. He’s made a lot progress.”

• The Irish held their Thursday practice in Notre Dame Stadium rather than the LaBar Practice Complex.

Notre Dame freshman quarterback Malik Zaire will miss Saturday's season opener with an illness. SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ