Lesar: Cranky Notre Dame quarterbacks haven't embraced decision yet

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Two cranky quarterbacks were forced to face the music Wednesday.

Put on a happy face and be company men at the Notre Dame football team’s media day.

It wasn’t always easy.

Less than 24 hours after DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire were told that 29 practice sessions worth of head-to-head competition — 15 last spring and 14 in August — ended in a draw, they hadn’t yet processed coach Brian Kelly’s decision and moved on.

Kelly said that both will play significant minutes against Texas Sept. 4.

The hurt — and anger — were still evident.

It manifested within the framework of the two personalities. Kizer, who took over in Game 2 last season after Zaire was lost with a broken ankle, was diplomatic and politically correct. He talked about putting those selfish thoughts out of his head. Zaire, who had to beat out Everett Golson to get the starting job last year, seemed to feel victimized by Kelly’s decision.

“I swear, I’m coach Kelly’s favorite quarterback, the way these challenges keep coming up,” Zaire said with an edge of sarcasm in his voice. “Every great quarterback has a story about going through adversity.

“My whole goal is to turn chicken crap into chicken salad.”

Alrighty then … There you have it. Sounds like a motto for the next Under Armour t-shirt. Graphics should be pretty simple.

Is that where the quarterback position at Notre Dame has evolved?

Beyond healing two battered egos, Kelly and his offensive coaches now have been charged with making a two-quarterback system work. There are so many working parts. So many tangible and intangible areas could be ripe for a hiccup.

Kizer and Zaire each consider themselves an “alpha dog.” No room for two at one position. Can they set aside everything that goes along with that personality trait for the good of the team? Will the locker room buy into the concept, or will there be a divide of factions for each? Other players talked a good game about not being concerned about who’s under center, but what’s it like when the doors are closed?

Kelly talked about tweaking the playbook to feature strengths: Kizer as a decision-maker who thinks his team into a good situation, and Zaire as a dynamic athlete who wills a play to be successful. How does Kelly resist the temptation of giving a quick hook to a guy who makes a bad play?

Human nature will cause both quarterbacks to look over their shoulder. Third-and-eight deep in Notre Dame territory, all receivers are covered and there’s a stout pass rush. The smart play would be to throw the ball away, punt, let the defense do its job, and come back the next series. However, in this case, the next series isn’t guaranteed. Will that force either guy to be more reckless?

Barring injury to either, how long can this plan last? Kelly juggled a similar situation one year at Cincinnati, then had a modified version of it in 2012 with Golson and Tommy Rees. Golson and Rees were more like game managers. Kizer and Zaire are both terrific playmakers who have to make an impact.

Go ahead and extend the competition through Texas and Nevada. Hopefully, by the time Michigan State rolls around, both should have a body of work built up that will allow for a clear-cut decision.

Don’t tempt fate by messing with the team identity and chemistry too deep into the season. Define the roles and make the tough decisions.

Too many chefs might have trouble making the chicken salad.

Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire during Notre Dame football practice on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016, at LaBar Practice Field. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)