Former Notre Dame QB Joe Theismann visits practice, evaluates QBs

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — From his vantage point along the sideline inside the Loftus Center on Wednesday, Joe Theismann observed Notre Dame’s 10th spring practice and saw one player in particular that reminded him a bit of his younger self.

“I was talking to Will Fuller about catching punts. I was laughing,” Theismann said Wednesday afternoon. “I told him, ‘You know, I started my career at Notre Dame as a punt returner.’ He looked at me like I had a third eye.

“My response to him was, ‘Just google it.’”

Of course, to Fuller – along with the rest of the world – Theismann is more known for playing quarterback, a position which allowed him to pass for 4,411 yards in his Notre Dame career and finish second in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1970. And on Wednesday, while gliding up and down the sideline at his alma mater, stopping every so often at one drill and then the next, Theismann took note of Notre Dame’s current quarterback competition as well.

“I think [offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach] Mike Sanford has done a wonderful job working with them on their mechanics, just the fundamentals of playing the position — understanding where they want to go, what they want to do, the concepts that they have,” Theismann said of senior Everett Golson and junior Malik Zaire.

“I think it’s going to be fun. All of the quarterbacks are very supportive of one another. If one does well, the other one is cheering for them. It’s a great thing to see, and they’re both very talented. They both throw the ball very, very well. I have always been impressed with Everett’s athletic skills. I didn’t really have a chance to see a lot of Malik’s [skills] over the course of the last year or so, but he’s impressive as an athlete as well.”

When Theismann evaluated Notre Dame’s quarterback stable, he found big talent — but small egos.

“They’re sponges. They’re learning,” Theismann said of the quarterbacks. “You watch them in practice listening to the coaches and see the way they respond. It’s always great to see young players anxious to get better.

“It’s not, ‘I’m at the University of Notre Dame. I’ve gotten here.’ In Everett’s case, it’s not, ‘I’ve started for a couple years.’ In Malik’s case, it’s not, ‘I started a bowl game.’ You just don’t see that. What you see is a couple young guys that really want to get better.”

Golson and Zaire, however, aren’t the only ones learning. One of the primary reasons Theismann sought to visit South Bend this spring was to consult with Sanford, who teaches many of the concepts the 11-year NFL alum is still working to digest.

“I have actually spent a lot of time with Mike over the last couple days, just talking philosophies. I wanted to learn what he did at Boise [State] and Stanford,” Theismann said. “I’m always curious to learn. I was fortunate enough to play, and I played a lot of quarterback and learned from a lot of great people. But with the new concepts and spread offenses that we see in football today, I haven’t really been exposed to that much.

“Mike and I talked fundamentals, technique, mechanics. But make no mistake, football has changed its personality completely. We are a fast-paced, throw-the-football football program at Notre Dame and across the country. That’s what everybody’s shooting for.”

By the time Sept. 5 rolls around, head coach Brian Kelly needs to have settled on a quarterback who can run that brand of offense efficiently.

Theismann, for one, believes that player is currently on the roster, even if he can’t yet settle on a name.

“The foundation of what they’re doing is very sound,” Theismann said. “It’s just a question of getting comfortable with the receivers, learning whatever new additions are being put in the playbook and finding a comfort level and a trust level. Those are two very, very important elements. That’s what you begin to develop in the spring.”

With 18 starters returning and a host of capable quarterbacks dueling for available snaps, hope is abundant at Notre Dame this spring. And despite four consecutive losses in the second half of the 2014 season, Theismann has little trouble envisioning an immediate turnaround.

“I think we have a really good chance to be a heck of a football team,” Theismann said. “Obviously, you never know how things are going to play out. Hopefully everybody stays healthy. But I am very optimistic about the future of Notre Dame football, and in this particular year.”

As for Theismann, whose photo is printed on a wall inside the Loftus Center entryway, he’s content to hover along the sideline, put his arm around Kelly and enjoy every second of another happy homecoming.

“Everybody makes you feel so good. It’s so heartwarming,” Theismann said. “Even though I grew up in New Jersey and have lived in the Washington area for nearly 40 years, when I come home to South Bend and get a chance to walk around and be on campus, it really does feel like home.”

It was an honor to have an all-time great @Theismann7 in our midst over the past 24 hours.

— Coach Mike Sanford (@CoachSanfordND) April 8, 2015//


Twitter: @mikevorel

Former Notre Dame quarterback Joe Theismann visited practice on Wednesday. (SBT File Photo)