Time to keep it simple for Notre Dame's quarterbacks

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Time to take thinking out of the equation at the quarterback position.

Thirteen days stand between the Notre Dame football team and its 2015 opener.

Hay’s in the barn, so to speak. Plan is to count on retention, and simplify the message to the guys running the offense.

Simple can be best in a stressful situation. The anxiety level for Malik Zaire, DeShone Kizer and Brandon Wimbush will likely be off the charts by Sept. 5, when Texas pays a visit. Between now and then, though, the three need to find a comfort zone where they can play at their peak.

Friday was a big step for Zaire. Even though he was intercepted on an overthrow on a short route, the Irish starter was more effective than he’s been in any of the four previous practices that were open to the media. He was able to use that talented stable of receivers to finally get the upper hand on a quality secondary.

Still, the challenge for head coach Brian Kelly and quarterback guru Mike Sanford is to spoon out the necessary information without creating an overload.

“(Zaire) has done a really good job on beginning to focus in on: Everything is not important,” said Kelly, trying to be specific about a pretty abstract concept. “There are only a few things that you need to focus on. (Zaire) wanted to focus on everything.

“We had to get his eye on some really important detail things. He’s done a much better job in being more laser in that focus. Sometimes he’s thinking about way too much minutia.

“It wasn’t that it was not football related. It was, but it was just too much information. When he and I said, ‘If you could keep it a lot simpler and focus in on these things,’ it’s really been good for him. We’ve seen him trend upward in his play.”

Trending upward is a good thing as Zaire braces for his second collegiate start. At this moment, he’s the only known commodity at the position, even though his body of work with the bright lights on is barely enough to constitute a trend.

Two previous appearances with quality reps — a relief appearance in a blowout loss to Southern Cal, and an MVP showing in a Music City Bowl win over LSU — are all Notre Dame fans have for evaluation.

Last year’s Ohio State team, which kept plugging in a great quarterback after the last one got hurt, has changed the landscape for QBs in all of college football.

After the Buckeyes won the national title despite losing their No. 1 and No. 2 quarterbacks to injury, the bar was raised for every other backup.

Kizer and Wimbush better be ready.

Kelly didn’t exactly make a grand proclamation about Kizer getting the nod as Zaire’s backup.  He kinda said with a shrug, “He’s moving in that direction, in terms of solidifying that position.”

Kelly had plenty to say about the adjustment problems Wimbush is having to the college game, which likely led to the decision on Kizer.

It’s not his arm. Or his head. It’s his feet.

“(Footwork) is tied, normally, into your progressions,” Kelly said. “We work off a three-step drop; a rocker step; and then hitches. Your feet take you through your progression.

“If you’re late or slow with your footwork … In Brandon’s case, he’s trying to get the laces of the ball. As he’s trying to get comfortable with the laces of the ball, he’s not taking any footwork; he’s not stepping. So, he’s late in a lot of the things he’s doing. It throws the timing off of everything.

“It’s only a matter of time before (the proper mechanics come) for him. We made great progress there in getting him caught up, relative to his progressions. Within the system we have, you have to be on time. The window opens and closes so quickly, if they’re late with their footwork they can’t get through their progressions.

“When he’s late, what does (Wimbush) do? He relies on what he has, and that’s a cannon of an arm. He tries to rip things in there; throw through defenders; and it creates problems.”

Might take some time to find the fundamentals.

Sounds simple enough.

Head coach Brian Kelly speaks with quarterback Malik Zaire Saturday, August 15, 2015, at the Notre Dame football practice at LaBar Practice Complex. SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ