QB DeShone Kizer's chaotic audition tour continues at Notre Dame Pro Day

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — DeShone Kizer’s shirt was not a spoiler.

When the 6-foot-5, 237-pound quarterback removed his jacket inside the Loftus Sports Center around 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, one word was printed boldly across his chest:

Chicago.

Could this be a not-so-subtle reference to the suddenly Jay Cutler-less Chicago Bears, who own the No. 3 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, and — according to the Chicago Tribune — are expected to host Kizer for a private workout next week?

Not so much. The shirt was actually a nod to the popular rock band “Chicago,” which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. In reality, no one knows where and when Kizer will be drafted on April 27 or 28: not Kizer, not Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly nor Bears head coach John Fox.

The only virtual certainty on Thursday — when Kizer completed 48 of 60 passes at Notre Dame’s annual pro day — is that, at some point, he will be drafted.

And for the departing junior, that’s enough.

“The number means absolutely nothing,” Kizer said. “I just want to be put in the right position that’s going to allow me to win. Obviously there’s a financial … there’s something good with being drafted higher. But as long as I’m in a position where I can be good and contribute to the team as early as I possibly can to get them to as many Super Bowls as we possibly can, I’ll be happy.”

But where is that likely to happen? After raving about Kizer’s intellect at last month’s NFL Combine, San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch attended Saturday’s Pro Day. So did Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley and 54 representatives from 27 NFL teams. According to former Irish tight end Chase Hounshell, who has been training with Kizer for several weeks, the quarterback has already completed workouts with the Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions, and plans to host the San Diego Chargers on Friday. Kizer also met privately with the New Orleans Saints following Thursday’s publicized display.

That’s a lot of teams, and a lot of potential landing spots. But whoever ultimately nabs Kizer will get more than a prized right arm.

“I’ve said quite a bit in this interview process that I simply believe that the stage that Notre Dame gives a college quarterback is as big as it gets,” said Kizer, who threw for 5,809 yards and 47 touchdowns in nearly two full seasons as the Irish starter. “This is the closest thing you can get to being a franchise quarterback in the sense that you’re going to go represent a great institution, you’re going to play on national television every week, you’re going to have media days like this, you’re going to be asked to speak at local events and things like that.

“All of that becomes experiences that will hopefully prepare me to be at the next level.”

Kizer will be there soon enough. But on Thursday, at his old stomping grounds, the two-year Irish starter ditched his jacket and revealed not only a suggestive T-shirt, but a renovated physique. He looked more like a cannonball than a wrecking ball, weighing in at 237 pounds after hovering around 250 for the USC game last November. Kizer credited an arduous conditioning regimen — including a lot of swimming — for his transformation.

That, and a diet that eliminated needless sweets.

“If you know me, you know I like my oatmeal crème pies,” the noticeably svelte quarterback joked. “It was hard to put those down for a while.”

In December, Kizer put down the crème pies. And on Thursday, he picked up a football. The Toledo native completed 80 percent of his passes, throwing to a ragtag assortment of receivers that included running backs Tarean Folston and Jonas Gray (who played at Notre Dame from 2008 to 2011), wide receivers Amir Carlisle (who graduated following the 2015 season) and Corey Robinson (who retired last spring) and tight end Hounshell (who played his sixth season last fall at Ohio State).

The results were inconsistent — a picturesque deep ball to Carlisle on one play, and a missed connection to Hounshell on the next. But though the spotlight was fixated on the quarterback, Kizer wasn’t the only one who felt its glow.

“When you’re out there and the lights are on, you typically speed everything up,” said Kizer, who opted not to participate in the other testing drills. “It’s the old saying that when you go up to do a speech, you should prepare for the speech to be 20 seconds less than the actual rehearsal. So we were out there and we were flying around and everyone was excited.”

The players were excited, Kizer was excited, and Gray — who has played in 16 NFL games with three teams and is currently a free agent — was also impressed.

“He’s his own guy,” the former Irish running back said. “He’s different from any guy I’ve ever played with, any guy I’ve ever been around. You can see the leadership that he has. Even when we were doing those drills he’s getting guys to come together. He’s telling people what the snap count is. He’s always in quarterback mode. That’s cool. He’s a level-headed guy, a smart, nice guy. And he’s got a gun.”

He’s got a big right arm and an eye-raising T-shirt, but no idea where he’ll be drafted.

In fact, Kizer doesn’t even know where his nationwide audition tour will take him next.

“I don’t really have a home base,” Kizer said with a chuckle. “I’m living out of a suitcase for a while. I’m heading to (Gruden’s QB Camp) on Monday. I have to do some NFL Players Association stuff as well as meet some teams that want to see me at their facilities. I’ll hop on any flight to go anywhere to check those teams out.

“So we’ll see how many days I’m away but it’s going to be quite a few trips, I can tell you that.”

Sometime next week, Kizer’s plane will land in Chicago.

And while it may not be his final destination, at least he’ll have something to wear.

mvorel@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @mikevorel

Quarterback DeShone Kizer passes during Notre Dame football Pro Day Thursday, March 23, 2017, inside the Loftus Sports Center in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN