Lesar: Notre Dame fans must come prepared for Blue-Gold Game

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Watching the finale of the Notre Dame football team’s spring workouts must be an educated experience.

Preparation is necessary.

History has proven that fans can’t take what they see in Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game at face value.

Remember Junior Jabbie?

There will be stars who will never be heard from again. And, take it to the bank, the Irish quarterback competition will not be decided by what happens in that exhibition.

But that doesn’t mean it will be a waste of time. The observer with the discerning pigskin palate will get a pretty good insight into what to expect on Sept. 4 when Notre Dame opens its season at Texas on Labor Day Eve.

The quarterbacks will be the easiest to study. Whether it’s incumbent DeShone Kizer or challenger — for the second year — Malik Zaire, what happens at the construction site also known as Notre Dame Stadium Saturday will at least give folks an opinion to carry into August when coach Brian Kelly finally will be forced to make a decision.

The only concern is that Kelly said he plans on making his quarterbacks — including third wheel Brandon Wimbush — live for contact, at least in the first half. That’s playing with fire. If Kizer and Zaire were unproven entities, the need to dissect their place in the run game would be necessary.

Not sure why he’s taking such a gamble in April.

The hard-core member of ND Nation will spend most of what should be a glorious Saturday afternoon fretting over Notre Dame’s real areas of concern.

On defense, every level is fraught with questions.

Who’s going to play linebacker? Nyles Morgan is a much more athletic middle linebacker than Joe Schmidt, but can he match Schmidt’s mental capacity? How will this defense look without Jaylon Smith? Is early-enrollee freshman Devin Studstill’s meteoric depth-chart ascent ahead of senior Max Redfield at safety legit or just Kelly’s way of sending the veteran a message? Where’s the pass rush coming from? Jarron Jones and Jerry Tillery are stout inside, but is there a dynamic player on the perimeter to force the issue?

The entertaining part to watch will be the secondary. Lots of young talent, especially at corner. Should make for some interesting matchups against a group of quality receivers.

There’s no laundry list of unanswered inquiries on offense.

The quarterback derby is a no-lose proposition. Either Kizer or Zaire will be able to win games. The challenge will come, probably in fall camp, when Kelly will have to keep the loser of the competition — and Wimbush — totally engaged and onboard with the direction of the team.

That could end up being a very delicate situation and, in today’s college football world, egos can get in the way of the best interest of the team.

Just ask Everett Golson.

With Tarean Folston, Josh Adams and Dexter Williams, the Irish are set at running back. Keeping three involved there is a lot easier than at quarterback. Youth, but big-time potential, make up the receiver position, and tight end likely will work out.

How well the offensive line — with three new components and holdovers Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey at new spots — is able to function together will go a long way toward being an indicator of the level of effectiveness of the offense come fall.

All the elite skill players in the world won’t matter if the line can’t block.

Forget the scoreboard. Only watch the path of the football occasionally.

There are so many morsels that go beyond what TV reveals for the grid connoisseur to digest Saturday.

Better come prepared.

Notre Dame quarterbacks Brandon Wimbush (12), Montgomery Van Gorder (4) Malik Zaire (8) and DeShone Kizer (14) run drills during practice Saturday, April 9, 2016 inside the Loftus Sports Center at Notre Dame in South Bend. Tribune photo/BECKY MALEWITZ