Irish need a leader in order to find their identity

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Next stop. ... 14-0?


Hold off booking that flight to Phoenix for a while.

This Notre Dame football team has some things to work out between now and the Jan. 11 national championship in the desert.

Saturday’s invitation-only Blue-Gold game hardly answered any questions left hanging through the first 14 spring practices.

The quarterback quandary is still far from solved. There’s depth on the offensive and defensive lines, as well as linebacker, but what’s the quality like? The secondary can come with a pop, but what’s coverage like? How seamless will KeiVarae Russell’s return at cornerback be?

“We want to have an identity when we come into (preseason) camp (in August),” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said after the exhibition. “We've got to play Texas, Virginia and Georgia Tech right out of the gate. We have to have an identity of who we are. We can't wait four or five weeks to find out, ‘Oh, well, we're a running team; we're a passing team; we're this, we're that.’ We want to use those (summer optional team activities) to really start to establish our DNA and our identity as to who we are.”

Hard for the Irish to know who they are when they don’t know who’s running the show.

Anyone who says it doesn’t matter whether it’s Everett Golson or Malik Zaire isn’t being completely honest.

The guy under center matters. The guy distributing the ball on every play is significant.

Everyone around the program is walking on egg shells when it comes to the Notre Dame quarterback situation.

Kelly is coy. The post-spring plan for the two was rather generic.

“We keep working on each individual and where they need to continue to grow individually, and then the decision on playing time will take care of itself,” Kelly said. “They can't control that. All they can control is the fundamentals of what we've asked them to work on, and the rest they can't really worry about, it's not their call.”

OK, yada, yada, yada.

Kelly critiqued Golson to the media for a pass play on which he tried to do more than was available. Zaire, who proved he could throw the deep ball with one long completion – 68 yards to Will Fuller – and a near miss of about 40 yards to Greg Bryant, had shortcomings. Kelly pointed out a fundamental flaw in his delivery (“a tendency to hold back on his left side”) which causes some of his errant throws.

Too bad neither quarterback was made available to the media after the scrimmage. It would have been nice to have heard what they thought about the last practice; or the competition in general; or the insinuation that it may not be the friendliest of rivalries; or the rumors that Golson could pull a Jewell Loyd and bail (though, rather than to the pros, his would be to another school once he gets his degree and is free to leave for a fifth year elsewhere).

Those certainly could have been compelling interviews.

A little while ago, Golson no-showed on a situation in which he was scheduled to address the media. Kelly covered for him saying he was focusing on academics.

Yeah, right. Must have had a paper due Saturday afternoon. His 15 minutes in front of the media apparently was too much of an imposition.

Again, egg shells.

Here’s a fella who faced the music under some of the most trying circumstances. Four interceptions, a fumble, and seven sacks in a loss to Arizona State, and there he was in front of a microphone bravely taking the heat like a leader should.

What has changed?

While Golson maintains his zipped lip, it only proliferates the whispers – founded only in gossip – that Saturday may have been his final appearance in a Notre Dame uniform.

It really wouldn’t have been difficult. If he was committed to the Irish, all he had to do was walk up to the podium and say it.

Why turn this into a complex situation if it isn’t? That’s not what leaders do.

Hard to find an identity without the heart and soul being intact. The growth process can’t happen without a leader in place.

Someone has to forget the egg shells and make a decision.

Notre Dame's Malik Zaire (8) passes the ball as defenseman Daniel Cage (75) closes in during the Blue and Gold Game Saturday April 18, 2015, in South Bend. SBT Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ