Brian Kelly opens Notre Dame spring practice with QB questions

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND —The most salient detail of the impending Everett Golson/Malik Zaire quarterback-o-rama drama is that getting tackled is part of the script.

Not that they won’t get to wear red jerseys when Notre Dame spring football practice opens with session one of 15 Wednesday morning at 7:30 a.m., likely indoors in the Loftus Center. It’s just that the universally accepted stop sign for defenders to avoid contact won’t constantly be available to them.

“It’s not going to be a full, all-spring, crash bang,” Irish sixth-year head coach Brian Kelly qualified Tuesday at a pre-spring practice primer. “Just to complete some of the run-game stuff, we’ll have to let them go.”

As to what outcome he is hoping to glean once the Blue-Gold Game concludes the five-week competition on April 18, Kelly professes to be as open to a distinct 1-2 pecking order as he is an eventual time share. 

“Once we see how they're going to compete, I think we'll have a better understanding of answering that question,” said Kelly, who until Wednesday only has drill-heavy winter workouts as a basis of comparison. 

“It's one thing to go out there and compete without footballs. It's another thing to put the football in their hands, go run the offense. Then we'll have a better sense.”

New offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford brings both a new perspective and influence to a competition forged by a late-season, turnover-laced struggle from Golson and a strong and poised first collegiate start for Zaire in the Dec. 30 Music City Bowl against LSU and what was then the nation’s No. 1 pass defense.

Golson, a 6-foot, 200-pound senior with a fifth-year option, has 25 career starts, 5,850 passing yards, a 60 percent career completion rate, 41 TD passes, 20 interceptions and 14 rushing TDs. The biggest hole in his game is 12 career lost fumbles and an uneasiness in the read-option game.

Read-option ace Zaire, a 6-0, 222-pound junior-to-be, is still an unknown, with one career start, 266 career passing yards, one TD pass, two rushing touchdowns and zero career turnovers. His biggest challenge is convincing the coaching staff and his teammates he has a high ceiling in the passing game and the maturity to be consistent with his effort and performance every day.

“We may have gotten to Malik a little bit sooner,” Kelly said, “if we had seen some of the natural leadership abilities that he showed on the sideline during the LSU games, if we had seen those things during practice.”

Sophomore-to-be DeShone Kizer is the third wheel in the equation. The tallest and heaviest QB on the roster, 6-5 and 230, redshirted last season.

“Really think his future is bright,” Kelly said. “He's going to have to do some really big things, because he's got guys in front of him that are really good players.”

And behind him. True freshman Brandon Wimbush, scheduled to arrive in June, was the most advanced and complete of the four coming out of high school.

The Irish open the 2015 season Sept. 5 against QB-deprived Texas (6-7), a team that would probably welcome a grad-school style transfer at the position, something that is open to Golson after he graduates in May (to Texas or another FBS school) but very much an afterthought at the moment.

For the Myrtle Beach, S.C. product, who missed the 2013 season in academic misconduct exile, the spring competition is about attitude and the ability to project that last season’s flaws were not only fixable but already vanishing. 

“If I'm Everett, I don't think that he has to accept that he has to share time with anybody,” Kelly said. “I don't think that notion has ever been floated to him. I've never floated that. 

“The only thing that I've ever said to Everett is that, ‘You have to come in here and compete for the starting quarterback position.’ That's all I've ever asked him to do. So he is committed.

“He has bought in 100 percent to competing for the quarterback position here at Notre Dame. Now, whatever that ends up being, if that end result is, as he competes for it, it means he's the backup or that he's the sole starter or that he's sharing time, he has no control over that. What he has control over is that he's committed to competing for the job.”


Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly addresses the media at the beginning of spring football practice Tuesday, March 17, 2014 in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)