Playing the 'what if' game with Notre Dame's Golson

NOTEBOOK

ERIC HANSEN
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — There’s a flip side to the lingering uncertainty surrounding Everett Golson’s return to Notre Dame, much of which melted away Monday during an impressive day behind center and in front of the microphones/cameras in his grand re-unveiling.

What if the pendulum swings to the other extreme in 2014, that Golson has a breakout season at quarterback after parlaying a semester-plus in academic exile into a launching pad toward dramatic improvement?

To the senior-to-be’s credit Monday, Golson wasn’t looking any further than Wednesday’s practice, the second of spring, when he visualized the future. But that doesn’t mean his future won’t be keeping tabs on him.

Ten years ago, there would be no NFL discussion about the 6-foot, 200-pound Golson, because of his size and, to a lesser extent, style. That is unless he wanted to switch positions and showed a skill set that made that palatable to drafting teams.

But now?

“I think we’re getting more and more high school and college quarterbacks that operate expressly out of the shotgun, they spread the field and they’re playmakers,” NFL Draft analyst Mike Mayock said recently in reference to the latest wave of short-but-staggering QBs with NFL futures, led by Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and who have Seattle’s Russell Wilson to thank.

“And as a result, I think the NFL is a reflection of that. Up until a few years ago, the NFL kept pushing back. ‘No, no, no. We want the big strong prototypical pocket guy. Nobody’s ever won a Super Bowl outside the pocket.’ All of those old sayings are kind of being beaten down.”

Golson’s short-and-modest college résumé hardly suggests he’ll eventually be in that discussion, but those who project his upside see a football future beyond college as a much more than a remote possibility.

“The model is changing, and it looks a lot like Everett Golson,” private quarterback tutor George Whitfield Jr., told the South Bend Tribune last fall when he spent two months helping to transform ND’s deposed 2012 starter.

“Coupled with the school he chose, the leadership and teaching he is getting from (ND head) coach (Brian) Kelly, I believe he will proceed to the NFL. He is the game, when you watch him and you see him. He is what the NFL teams are doing.

“Look at Terelle Pryor, E.J. Manuel — it’s being dynamic. It’s not really about your 40 time as much as it is having two dimensions. And he’s already playing against NFL talent at Notre Dame.”

The Myrtle Beach, S.C., product who faced and beat NFL Combine freak Jadeveon Clowney and his South Pointe High teammates in the Class AAA state championship game 3½ years ago, has two years of college eligibility remaining.

There’s nothing to suggest at this point he won’t use both, but if the momentum of his offseason improvement builds in the fall, there will certainly be speculation about a potential early exit.

“I think the jury is still out on Golson,” said draft analyst Scott Wright of draftcountdown.com. “He’s just had one year as a starter. Having two years is probably a good thing for him, because the NFL has been in a transition stage, and if Manziel comes in and has the success that Russell Wilson has, I think it’s going to make the short quarterback stigma a lot less prevalent.

“But I think he needs those two years to let that shake out. He needs to come back and re-establish himself and continue to develop. It’s just too early to know who he’s ultimately going to be, but this will be a big year in kind of show where he’s headed.”

Notre Dame’s spring practice resumes with session No. 3 of 15 on March 19 after a hiatus caused by the school’s spring break. Spring practice wraps up with the annual Blue-Gold Game, April 12 at Notre Dame Stadium.

Mock mockery

The latest sets of mock drafts hitting the cyber-verse this week will have very limited shelf lives.

That’s because the NFL’s free-agent period kicks off next week.

“I’ve spent three days working on this mock draft, and it’s about to get blown out of the water,” Wright said. “I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the landscape of the NFL draft, especially the first round, is going to be changing on an hourly basis. Every signing is going to have a ripple effect.

“Up until now, the mocks have basically been educated guesses. In the next month, we’re all going to have a better idea of who the teams are legitimately targeting and how to connect those dots.”

One of the most perplexing dots for draft analysts to connect is former Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuitt. ESPN’s Todd McShay moved the 6-foot-5, 304-pound early entry out of the first round in his latest mock. NFL Network’s Mayock conversely moved him into his top five defensive end prospects, at No. 5, after having him unranked prior to last month’s NFL Combine in Indianapolis.

Wright, of draftcountdown.com, moved Tuitt down, but not out of the first round. His mock released Friday has Tuitt going 31st in the 32-pick first round to the Denver Broncos.

“The three big factors for Tuitt are his weight/stamina, his durability and his fit — can he play in both the 3-4 and the 4-3?” Wright said. “And really none of those have been answered so far.”

Tuitt’s agent, Jimmy Sexton out of Memphis Tenn., isn’t exactly filling in the blanks. He recently declined comment about the timing of reportedly impending surgery for a foot fracture that was discovered during Tuitt’s medical exams at the combine.

A Pro Day, in which Tuitt performed the physical testing that the combine organizers scratched him from in Indy, was hastily concocted and run last Friday at the Lovett School in Atlanta.

The only real information from that session, limited as it was, came from Tuitt himself via his Twitter account.

“Pro day went really well. Thank God,” he tweeted. “Making my dreams come true!!!! A challenging awesome day.” And “Ran a 4.8 at pro day at 303.”

Again, Sexton declined to provide detail or confirmation of the teams attending or numbers posted at the workout other than to acknowledge it did in fact take place.

“Agents don’t always say a lot, and when they do they’re often spinning the information,” Wright said. “To completely shut it down seems odd. It makes you think, ‘What’s being hidden?’ ”

If Tuitt did run a 4.8 in the 40, he would have run faster than nine of the 15 quarterbacks who ran at the combine, including Clemson’s Taj Boyd (4.84), Alabama’s AJ McCarron (4.94) and Central Florida’s Blake Bortles (4.93), possibly the No. 1 pick overall, and only a shade behind Northern Illinois’ prolific running quarterback and Heismam Trophy finalist Jordan Lynch (4.76).

Among defensive ends, South Carolina’s Clowney ripped off a freakish 4.53 in Indy, but Missouri’s Kony Ealy, a player Tuitt is competing with to be the second defensive end off the board (behind Clowney), ran a 4.92.

But are they truly apples-to-apples numbers?

“It really doesn’t matter,” Wright said. “Whether he runs a 4.8 or a 4.85 or a 4.95 or even a 5.05, if he runs anything in that range for a guy who’s 6-5, 305 pounds, it’s more than adequate. His game is not speed. I thought it was more important for him to do well in the bench press (31 reps) which he did.

“Again there’s things clouding his stock, and speed isn’t one of them. Durability is at the top of the lists. He’s gone three offseasons in a row where he hasn’t been healthy, and he hasn’t been able to perform up to his optimal level the last two seasons because of injuries. He’s a very talented player, but is he going to be able to hold up to the demands of playing in the NFL?”

Wright has two other Irish players projected in the first round. Offensive tackle Zack Martin, he said, would be a strong fit at No. 17 (Baltimore), No. 19 (Miami) or No. 20 (Arizona). He projects nose guard Louis Nix at No. 21 to Green Bay.

That is until the free agent period kicks in on Tuesday.

Speaking of free agents, Notre Dame is well-represented in the latest free agent class.

The Irish contingent is led by Super Bowl winning wide receiver Golden Tate of the Seattle Seahawks.

Others include quarterbacks Jimmy Clausen (Carolina) and Brady Quinn (St. Louis), safety Sergio Brown (Indianapolis), offensive lineman Sam Young (Jacksonville) defensive linemen Justin Tuck (New York Giants) and Derek Landri (Tampa Bay), and recently released tight end John Carlson (Minnesota), who reportedly visited with Arizona on Thursday.

An even Kiel?

The “what if” game involving former five-star quarterback prospect Gunner Kiel and his former school, Notre Dame, has pretty much run its course, especially with 2012 starter Everett Golson now back on the Irish roster.

Kiel decided to exit the Irish roster just before spring practice last year in search of a clearer path to the No. 1 spot on the depth chart and a happy ending.

Kiel’s last playing time in an actual game came in a Columbus (Ind.) East High School uniform in 62-7 loss to Indianapolis Cathedral in the Indiana state playoffs back in November of 2011.

Through a handful of spring practices at his new school, Cincinnati, Kiel is the presumed No. 1 option, for now. But he has encountered something unexpected at UC this spring — competition.

It won’t come from Munchie Legaux, at least not in the spring and perhaps not at all. Legaux was Cincinnati’s starter early last season when he suffered a gruesome injury against Illinois that resulted in the tearing of all four ligaments in his left knee and the dislocation of the joint.

While the NCAA granted the 6-foot-5, 205-pound dual threat another year of eligibility for 2014, it’s not certain that Legaux will be able to take advantage of it.

Cincinnati’s trainer, Bob Mangine, told Tom Groeschen of the Cincinnati Enquirer that Legaux’s injury was among the worst he’d seen in 40 years in the business and that he pegged the QB’s chances of ever returning to play football at 60-40 in favor. Legaux is 9-5 in 14 career starts at UC.

Kiel’s immediate competition is coming from Jarred Evans, a mid-year transfer from Santa Barbara Community College, who drew interest last fall from some big-name schools but whose only other actual scholarship offer came from New Mexico State.

Evans played his high school football at West Catholic in Philadelphia.

“The ball is in Gunner’s court,” UC coach Tommy Tuberville told Groeschen. “He’s got an edge mentally with what he’s doing, but I’ll tell you, he’s got a young guy behind him in Jarred Evans. He can throw and he can run.”

UC’s schedule is set in terms of opponents, but not in terms of sequence of games. Notably the Bearcats will face Miami of Ohio, where another former Irish quarterback, Andrew Hendrix, is competing to be the starter and where Chuck Martin is now the head coach. Road trips to Ohio State and Miami (Fla.) are included on the schedule.

Twitter: @hansenNDInsider

Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson listens to a coach during the opening day of spring football practice on Monday, Mar. 3, 2014, at Notre Dame. (SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER)