What might Plan B at QB look like for Notre Dame?

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

In a rare moment this spring when Avery Davis happened to be standing still, John Tomlinson noticed something markedly different about the future Notre Dame quarterback and current high school sprinter.

“I’m 5-10 ½, and used to be able to look him in the eye,” the Cedar Hill (Texas) High quarterbacks coach said of his migrating prized pupil. “Now I have to look up. He’s hit a little spurt. He’s over six foot now.”

Not that the extra inch and some change necessarily changes Davis’ vantage point when it comes to positioning himself this summer and in the fall to be ND’s Plan B at quarterback to presumptive starter, junior Brandon Wimbush.

Nor necessarily do the sizzling times on the stopwatch in the 400- and 800-meter relays for the versatile performer who has long jump and triple jump on his track résumé as well.

It’s what’s happening above the eyebrows, even now, when Davis’ primary competition for the No. 2 job — redshirt freshman Ian Book — is taking meaningful reps in spring practice and getting direct coaching from new QBs coach Tom Rees.

“He possesses a mental piece that will get him ready on the field,’ Tomlinson said of Davis. “I feel like that’s what’s going to be the edge for him. He does study film. He understands coverage.

“That’s usually the bar that a lot of guys can’t cross when they get to college, because they don’t understand it. They’re not diligent enough.

“Obviously in college, your time is limited in reference to hours on the field, practice time, but I believe he’s going to make that quarterback room a second home, because he’s already forming those habits here and now when nobody’s watching.”

The larger question is can either the 6-foot, 205-pound Book or Davis — listed as 5-11, 192 when he signed his national letter-of-intent on Feb. 1 — play well enough if called upon to avert a lost season should something happen to Wimbush?

Those who know them best believe Book and Davis have the talent to rise to the occasion. But the Brian Kelly/Chip Long/Rees triumvirate will have to choose one in August in whom to invest the valuable backup reps.

Neither was a recruiting service sensation coming out of high school, each being branded a three-star ranking from Rivals.com. But it’s not for lack of performance — or competition — for that matter.

Book starred for Oak Ridge High School in El Dorado Hills, Calif. The league Oak Ridge plays in, the Sierra Foothill League, is renowned not only for its prowess in the state playoffs but also for producing college standouts.

Washington star QB Jake Browning, for instance, played at neighboring Folsom High, graduating a year ahead of Book.

Book played his first two seasons as a starter in a pro-style offense, in which there were almost zero planned QB runs. But when Oak Ridge coach Eric Cavaliere decided to shift to a spread offense in Book’s senior season, his QB thrived in it.

Book completed 71 percent of his passes in 2015 in the new offense, with 3,049 passing yards and a 30-5 TD-to-interception ratio. He averaged 6.0 yards a carry (779 yards, 129 carries, 12 TDs).

“Physically, for Ian, the two best things he does, is his accuracy, No. 1,” Cavaliere said of Book, also an accomplished lacrosse player at Oak Ridge. “His accuracy is just phenomenal. It’s not just about hitting open receivers, it’s about hitting receivers in the right spot where they can make a play after a catch.

“The second thing is he’s really good at extending a play. He’s really good at feeling pressure. He keeps his eyes down field, and he’s always been able to find that second or third receiver when a play breaks down.”

Rees has seen some of that from Book this spring.

“Now he’s just trying to put it all together where you get consistency day in and day out,” the former Irish starting QB (2011, 2013) said, “which is probably the next step for him.”

Tomlinson would have loved to have seen Davis get a chance to go through the same kind of progression this spring as an early enrollee, but circumstances and credit hours didn’t align for him to do so.

“That’ll be his biggest challenge, not being there in the spring,” Tomlinson said, “because once he picks up the system, he’s going to take it and run with it.”

He did just that for Cedar Hill in 2016 in Texas’ largest class (6A). The Longhorns lost three games last season, but those losses came to Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman, which finished No. 1 in the nation in USA Today’s final Super 25 poll, and twice to rival DeSoto, which finished No. 3 in the national rankings.

The second loss to DeSoto came in the state 6A Division II playoffs, 55-41, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. In that game, Davis accounted for 572 of his team’s 574 yards in total offense. He threw for four TDs and ran for two.

Despite missing two games because of injury, Davis finished the year with 2,876 passing yards on 69 percent accuracy with 37 TDs passes. He rushed 84 times for 369 yards and six scores.

“I think he has a natural feel for playing the position,” said Rees, who has watched Davis on film, “a natural feel for throwing the football. And then he’s also a great athlete who can get out and extend.”

Davis does leave Cedar Hill with a state title. That came during his sophomore season. Davis was the Longhorns’ backup QB in 2014, but he tag-teamed in the title game and threw for 68 yards and a TD (3-of-5) and ran for 126 yards on 10 carries.

That included a 52-yard gallop late in the fourth quarter that set up the game-winning field goal in a 23-20 triumph over Katy.

“He’s got the athletic skills,” Tomlinson said. “He’s physical. He throws the ball well, uses his base, has good leverage, has some good arm strength. But it’s what’s between those ears. That’s the part I think is going to give him an advantage.

“Nothing he does in the way of climbing that depth chart will surprise me. From the very start of me working with him what impressed me about Avery was his humility.

“He never got comfortable with the accolades and, ‘Hey man, you’re good.’ He was just never driven by that. He always felt he could do better. I think his competitive spirit has helped him evolve and will continue to do so at Notre Dame.”

Cedar Hill (Texas) High senior Avery Davis (left) and Notre Dame redshirt freshman Ian Book (right) figure to be ND's best two options at quarterback behind presumptive starter Brandon Wimbush. (Dallas Morning News Photo/LOUIS DELUCA; Tribune Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ)