Notre Dame QB Malik Zaire clear on thoughts of time share

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Among the new offseason skills Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire has acquired since winning the MVP award of the Dec. 30 Music City Bowl, apparently, is a filter.

As in the sometimes-brazen, always-candid thoughts of the wannabe starter now come with a self-editing feature before they reach his lips. Sometimes.

Like when the junior-to-be is pressed about the schematic alterations new coordinator/quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford is infusing into head coach Brian Kelly’s offense.

“Secrets, secrets, secrets,” Zaire said, laughing at his new toy and the surprised look it creates on the media’s faces.

The Irish coaches’ critique of his LSU performance? Same answer. Ditto on what specific fundamentals he needs to sharpen this spring.

But when it comes to how he doesn’t want this spring’s open quarterback competition to end, specifically in a time share, the old Zaire comes roaring back.

“I mean it’s not the ideal situation,” he said Friday after ND’s practice No. 6 of 15 this spring. “At the end of the day, there’s only one Captain Jack Sparrow of the offense. I mean coach Kelly makes the decisions on the team.

“I don’t get paid to make those decisions. I wish I did. I just do what I’m supposed to do, and however it plays out, it plays out. But I’ve just got to make the most of my opportunities and then go play.”

Captain Jack Sparrow, for the record, is a fictional character, and a good guy at that, in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series.

The competition between Zaire and incumbent Everett Golson is real. And edgy. And not likely to be defined by the time spring concludes with the April 18 Blue-Gold Game.

Zaire had the media spotlight to himself Friday, at least among the quarterbacks. Golson did practice Friday, but a flu bug working its way throughout the team made him and a handful of other players late scratches for interviews.

Zaire on Friday never mentioned the fifth-year senior-to-be by name (called him “5”), danced around what their relationship is like, and kept coming back to the point that the tag-team approach that worked so effectively in the Irish upsetting LSU, a team with the nation’s No. 1 pass defense before kickoff and No. 9 overall, might be the worst-case scenario — for himself.

“It would tell me that I need to step up my game in whatever aspect I need to, just to make it clear-cut to whoever may decide,” Zaire said.

“I think at the end of the day, Peyton Manning doesn’t share time with a lot of people. I think Peyton Manning’s greatness, his consistency, his efficiency in his offense and what he does and his perfectionist type of mentality is what makes him Peyton Manning and what makes him not have to share time with people.

“And I think that’s inspiring for every quarterback to look at, because everybody — you’ve got to bring it. And I think it’s important within the team and every position you’ve got to bring it every day, because this is a high-profile team. I think, because of that, it only holds you to a higher expectation, a higher standard.”

Zaire this spring has to create high expectations of him among the decision-makers, since his college résumé is so limited.

Despite the strong showing in his first and only collegiate start, against LSU, the reality is he’s a quarterback with 35 career pass attempts, zero complete games, and as many meaningful quarters on the field in his career (6) as he’s had offensive coordinators (3) and quarterback coaches (3) combined in less than three years on campus.

The latest, and holding both titles, Sanford, has helped Zaire the most by teaching him the big picture — how the line play relates to a certain play, what the receivers are thinking, how the pieces fit together — instead of just his little corner of the offense.

“I think it helps me grow as a quarterback and understand how to be a complete quarterback,” he said.

Part of that he learned before Sanford’s arrival — and the hard way.

“I think Malik has to continue to lead,” Kelly said. “He has to continue to show that he has not only game day skills, but the practice skills necessary to lead our football team.

“We may have gotten to Malik a little bit sooner (last season) if we had seen some of the natural leadership abilities that he showed on the sideline during the LSU game, if we had seen those things during practice.

“He showed he has that in him. Now it has to be on display both in practice and not just in games.”

Zaire’s new source of inspiration along those lines is watching game film of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

“He makes the game look smooth, look easy,” Zaire said.

And he does it all the time, something Zaire said he got Kelly’s message about loud and clear.

“I think that some of the opportunities I’ve gotten I didn’t take the most advantage of, and that’s just how the game works sometimes,” he said. “You’re not going to get every rep you intend to, and the ones you’re not expecting, you’ve got to be ready for anyway.

“I’ve grown a lot. I don’t know what the man thinks all the time. He does what he feels is best for the football team, and it just won’t happen again.”

Hendrix returns

A quarterback Golson was embroiled with in an open QB competition in the spring of 2012, Andrew Hendrix, was back on campus Friday and taking in an Irish football practice.

Hendrix spent his final season of eligibility last fall at Miami (Ohio) as the RedHawks’ starting quarterback. And he’s hopeful to land in an NFL camp, likely as a rookie free agent, after the 2015 draft is held April 30-May 2 in Chicago.

He’ll get his chance to perform in front of multiple NFL scouts and personnel types Tuesday, when Hendrix takes part in Notre Dame’s Pro Day. Hendrix said he’ll be throwing passes to former teammates tight end Ben Koyack and running back Cam McDaniel, and possibly wide receiver DaVaris Daniels.

For McDaniel, it might be a nice change to catch passes from a human quarterback. He recently posted a video on his Instagram account of him on the receiving end of lobs from a JUGS machine, with his pregnant wife feeding the machine (https://instagram.com/p/0bzixMvyGK/).

A new strategy?

Maybe Indiana University men’s basketball coach Tom Crean wants to figure out a way to have his Hoosiers play more physical. Or maybe he just wanted livelier Thanksgiving Day banter with famous football-coaching brothers-in-law Jim and John Harbaugh.

In either case, Crean not only attended the Notre Dame Football coaches clinic, which concludes with Saturday’s practice session, he sat in the front row Friday afternoon for ND offensive line coach Harry Hiestand’s presentation at Purcell Pavilion.

He took notes throughout, and afterward followed up by asking Hiestand a series of questions.

ehansen@sbtinfo.com

(574) 235-6112

@EHansenNDI

Notre Dame QB Malik Zaire during practice on Wednesday, March 18, 2015, inside the Loftus Sports Center at Notre Dame in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN