Notre Dame QB Brandon Wimbush hopes to be a hit under starting spotlight

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Brandon Wimbush hasn’t been hit in so long that he can’t immediately pinpoint the last time he was part of a collision.

“It’s been like three years,” said the junior Notre Dame quarterback.

His first guess would have put him back at Jersey City (N.J.) St. Peter’s Prep. Then he quickly figures it was probably his freshman year at Notre Dame when he saw spot duty twice for the Irish.

A reporter politely suggests the Pittsburgh game, and the memory comes into focus.

“Yeah. Pittsburgh. Definitely,” Wimbush said. “After that fumble.”

He probably wanted to forget that play. Hoping to ice the game in garbage time, Wimbush took a snap from shotgun on third-and-7 with 1:53 remaining at Heinz Field. Before an apparent quarterback draw could develop, the defense collapsed on Wimbush. A blitzing linebacker drilled him into the ground, Wimbush fumbled the football and the Panthers picked it up and returned it for a touchdown.

Notre Dame maintained a 42-30 lead, but when the Irish offense took the field following a failed onside kick, DeShone Kizer returned to the quarterback spot to finish the game.

The future seems so bright for Wimbush that it may be hard to remember that he hasn’t taken a live snap or hit since then. It’s a reminder of how much he still has to prove in his first year as the starter.

But the 6-foot-2, 228-pound quarterback isn’t afraid of what’s to come. Wimbush misses that contact, even if it were to come from his teammates in practice.

“I do (miss getting hit.) You do after a while,” Wimbush said. “You’re like, ‘I haven’t played football in a while, so let me get touched up a little bit.’ But the guys, Daelin Hayes and the other defensive linemen, have been around me, so it feels like I’m kind of getting hit.”

The lack of live action can be especially frustrating for Wimbush when a designed run or scramble gets blown dead in practice rather than giving him a chance to make a play.

“That takes out a whole dimension of my game and the offense,” Wimbush said, “and I think that would be huge for us come Sept. 2 and the rest of the season. It’s going to be interesting to see me use my feet a little bit.”

No matter how much Wimbush misses it, he won’t be getting hit until the season opener against Temple. He has plenty left to hash out before then.

The first-year starter is learning from new offensive coordinator Chip Long and first-year quarterbacks coach Tommy Rees. As Wimbush describes it, the concepts and terminology aren’t that different than previous seasons, but now the onus is on him to have complete command of it.

“It is still kind of new,” Wimbush said. “The quarterbacks and coach Rees and coach Long have done a good job of taking the time out and putting in the work and giving us the resources necessary to actually feel comfortable when we are out there. That will come with the next three weeks.”

Preseason camp comes with expected ups and downs for any quarterback. Fortunately for Wimbush, he doesn’t have the constant threat of losing his job at any moment. The offense is being geared around him, and the Irish coaches will learn in the coming weeks what he can handle.

That started with an installation overload.

“We're laying a lot on him right now,” head coach Brian Kelly said after Saturday’s practice. “We're in the installation phase. If I took five or six routes that he knows really well, I would say crystal clear. In terms of five days, we’ve had 30 different route concepts. I don’t know if I’m very clear right now on some of the things.”

For the first time since high school, when he was a four-star recruit and an eventual state champion, Wimbush has the opportunity to maximize his growth as a quarterback with plenty of reps in practice. No longer does offensive visualization and understanding have to be self-contained. He can apply what he’s learning on the field.

“It’s different when you’re in the film room as opposed to when you’re on the field actually going through full speed against a defense,” Wimbush said. “When you’re in the film room, you’re able to dissect it and see where you made your mistake at, and hopefully you’re able to translate that onto the field.”

Wimbush was on a trajectory for stardom before he arrived at Notre Dame. His evolution has required patience, and the upcoming season will be the first true test of his transcendence.

The Irish will try to prepare him in every way possible for his first career start. Then he'll have to take a hit.

“My game is where it needs to be right now,” Wimbush said. “Coach Rees and coach Long and the other guys in the quarterback room have pushed me to excel my preparation. We’ve all done a great job of doing that. We’re right where we need to be.”

tjames@ndinsider.com

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Notre Dame QB Brandon Wimbush looks to pass during Notre Dame football practice Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017, at Culver Academies in Culver, Ind. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN