Lesar: Notre Dame QB derby will have impact on entire team

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Every rep will be dissected and analyzed.

But it’s important to look at the Notre Dame football team’s quarterback competition from a perspective beyond the battle between DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire.

An evaluation process within the context of a construction project can throw a monkey wrench into the progress of both.

The Irish will be walking a fine line starting Saturday in Culver: Give Kizer (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) and Zaire (6-0, 225) ample opportunities to prove themselves, while at the same time finding growth and consistency with a young group of receivers and some new faces on the offensive line.

Zaire beat out Everett Golson in the spring of 2015, had a great game in a lopsided win over Texas, then was lost for the season with a broken ankle against Virginia. Kizer provided a dramatic late rally against Virginia, and led the Irish to a 10-2 season that ended with a Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State.

Now, they’re both healthy and intent on being “the man.”

It’s definitely a delicate balance.

“You’re trying to compete for your own job, and you have some of those selfish thoughts come to mind, while also trying to develop young guys. It’s going to be different,” Kizer said Friday of the challenge ahead. “A lot of the work we’re going to have to do (with the young receivers) is going to be one-on-one (scenarios) off the field; in the board room; or whatever we have to do to bring these guys along.”

Irish coach Brian Kelly was adamant that his decision on a starter will not ignite a divide or disconnect within the locker room.

“The locker room could care less (about who the starter is),” Kelly said. “(The players) know (Kizer and Zaire) are both really good. There won’t be any controversy. They won’t be split or divided. Our guys trust (the coaches) will make the right decision.

“We know what we’re going to look like (in terms of an offensive identity). It’s just a matter of who’s going to take the snaps.”

It’s one thing for the rest of the team to accept the decision, it’s something much more challenging for the loser to maintain his focus.

“It’s important to be a teammate, as well as a leader on the team,” said Zaire. “Sometimes you have to be able to accept things you cannot change and also be able to be a positive influence for the success of the team.

“I feel I have a lot of value to this football team. I’m just looking for an opportunity to show it finally.”

Kizer abruptly stopped short with his chance to be the good soldier and talk about how he would unify the team if Zaire is No. 1.

“I intend to be the starter,” he said, taking any other hypotheticals out of the equation.

Any team is going to have its tight-knit groups. Notre Dame is no different. From what Kizer suggested, he and Zaire run in some different circles. Kizer, in his third year with the Irish, said the key is for him to rally his peeps and Zaire, in his fourth year, to take the lead with his in a show of unity.

“This unique situation that we have this year is going to help us,” said Kizer. “When you have two great leaders; two great athletes out there trying to lead 100 men, there are a lot out there who need to be led.

“We can take both of our different leadership styles and, hopefully, grab the whole team instead of just a group of the team.”

This is a lot different than the last Irish quarterback derby. When Zaire and Everett Golson battled it out, the animosity was obvious and Golson became a media recluse.

Despite this current battle, Zaire (Kettering) and Kizer (Toledo) — both Ohio natives  have been travel partners to the homeland.

With the experience of one hotly-contested — and successful  competition behind him, Zaire has taken those lessons into this battle.

“This whole journey for me so far has been a call of greatness,” Zaire said. “By continuing, and not giving up, and believing in the guys around me, and to do the things necessary to have success is something I pride myself on.

“(While on the field) I always try to focus on myself. Results and production are quantifiable. That’s all I can concentrate on.”

And hope the foundation of the team doesn’t experience any fractures.

No matter who’s under center.

Notre Dame QB Malik Zaire, left, passes as teammate DeShone Kizer looks on during Notre Dame spring football practice on Wednesday, March 16, 2016. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)