Another Quarterback Battle Looms for Notre Dame

Everett Golson - QB Battle
(Photo: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

Notre Dame starting quarterback Tommy Rees admitted to becoming slightly emotional as the crowd at Notre Dame Stadium began to chant his name after taking a knee to run out the clock in the Fighting Irish’s senior day victory over BYU.

“That was a special moment,” Rees told reporters after his last game in South Bend had come to a close.  “That was a memory I’ll definitely hold very closely for a long time.”

It’s a memory Rees has earned after intermittently being named the starter at Notre Dame during his tumultuous four year career, accumulating a 22-7 record and climbing his way to the 4th leading passer in Notre Dame history in the process.  With one regular season game and one bowl game left to go, and only 450 yards separating him from Ron Powlus, the likelihood is strong that Rees will leave Notre Dame as the 3rd all-time passer, a very special number in Notre Dame lore.

But while Rees enjoyed his special nostalgic moment with the crowd chanting his name one last time, true freshman quarterback Malik Zaire watched from the sideline, just as former Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson witnessed the event on a television set from an unknown location.

The battle lines for 2014 have already been drawn.

The first salvo was fired from head coach Brian Kelly at his weekly press conference when discussing the benefits of red-shirting Zaire.  Kelly told the media Zaire was able to get acclimated to the college game by sitting his first season, and that the opportunity allowed him to “really give him that sense of what it’s like in the preparation  necessary to be the starting quarterback here.”  But Kelly laid out the battle plans for the public when a member of the media asked whether or not Zaire should have played this season in order to gain experience in case injuries strike in 2014 as savagely as they did in 2013.

“That’s assuming Everett’s the starter,” Kelly deadpanned.

Was the comment said to instill confidence in Zaire?  Was it a challenge to Golson that his spot on the team will have to be re-earned?  Or was it simply truth?

Kelly’s statement isn’t completely baseless.  During spring practice it was leaked that Kelly had told fellow staff that Zaire is one of the fastest learners he had encountered in his two decades of coaching.  Whatever his intent, the true meaning behind Kelly’s comment will at least show itself this upcoming spring, as Kelly informed the media Zaire will receive “a ton of reps.”

Should a quarterback battle emerge in 2014, Golson will be uniquely equipped.  In addition to helping lead Notre Dame to its first undefeated season in decades, Everett has spent the past few months under the tutelage of quarterback guru George Whitfield while serving out his suspension for “poor academic judgment” stemming from an incident this past May.  Whitfield’s background is extensive, having worked with NFL quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Donovan McNabb, though Whitfield is most well-known for grooming Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel the summer before he would become the first freshman to ever capture the prestigious award.

Whitfield worked extensively on fine-tuning Golson’s mechanics, most notably Everett’s unorthodox throwing-motion.

“You know how much strength you have to have to throw like that all the time?” Whitfield asked CBS Sports reporter Bruce Feldman while discussing Golson’s proclivity for throwing the football without utilizing its laces.  Such idiosyncrasies are now a thing of the past due to Whitfield’s meticulous mentorship.

Golson has now inserted griping the football’s laces as part of his repertoire, and acknowledges an increase in velocity with his throws, as well as better touch.

“Throwing with the laces has made me have more dexterity in my hands and I can sense a difference for the better with more control,” Golson told Feldman.

Golson’s maturation has extended beyond muscle memory and into the realm of pure muscle as well.  Everett is no longer the baby-faced, lanky teenager that arrived at Notre Dame in January of 2011.  Golson has added bulk to his frame, increasing his weight from 185 pounds to a sturdy 202.  The South Carolina native will literally be well-armed heading into any quarterback competition.

But Malik Zaire shouldn’t be dismissed outright.  The Kettering , Ohio, native has received more praise from Brian Kelly at an earlier age than any other quarterback that has arrived in South Bend since Kelly accepted the head coaching position.  And Zaire has the pedigree to match the accolades, having been listed the third best dual-threat quarterback in the nation with offers from Alabama and Ohio State.  Malik was also a participant in the Elite 11, an annual event highlighting the best high school quarterbacks in the nation, nearly catching MVP honors in the process.

While it’s anybody’s guess which quarterback will ultimately win out, the true victor in such a talented quarterback contest is Notre Dame.

Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, as well as appeared on MSNBC as a sports contributor. In his spare time he takes his NCAA Football ’13 online dynasty way too seriously and alienates those around him by discussing football 24 hours a day. Scott can be reached at [email protected] 

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  1. there is no way golson gets the nod settled down folks.Zaire will lead you there to championship land players will believe in him.

  2. BTW: Apparently OLB/DE Jhonny (That’s how I believe he spells his name?) Williams just flipped from Mizzou to ND. Nice get. The Irish are high on him. Need more playmakers on D. to go along with Jaylon Smith.

    Go Irish!

  3. Golsons experience will probably win out but we will have a top notch QB
    for the next 4 years. The 2 best coaches in the country wanted Zaire
    remember which is impressive. That is Saban and Meyer.

  4. First, as everyone should know by now, Golson wasn’t “suspended.” And his punishment was not for “poor academic judgment” arising out of “an incident.” Golson was expelled for cheating. The school chose not to impose the lesser sanction of suspension because it felt that suspension would not be sufficient punishment for the nature and extent of the cheating that Golson engaged in. Therefore it expelled him from the University (with leave to reapply after a semester out of school).

    Second, do not be fooled by Kelly’s almost yearly talk of a quarterback “competition.” Kelly rightly doesn’t want Malik Zaire to lose heart. But make no mistake: Kelly is committed to Golson as his starter. He has too much of his own and his assistants’ time and effort invested in Golson to have anyone but him start. Now that Golson has learned to grip the ball by the laces, Kelly is all the more certain to make him the starter.

    1. Golson is an average qb nothing really exciting about him. the other too are ready and gifted to run that offence.

  5. IF Zaire was that good, Kelly should have infiltrated his thick skull and allowed Malik to play this season when we truly needed him. Now we have one QB with game experience heading into next season. Zaire was the answer immediately after seeing Tommy still committing the same old mistakes game after game. I hold Kelly responsible for protecting something for next season instead of nurturing it along. A BIG BIG Mistake.

  6. But the MOANDQBB (Mother of all Notre Dame quarter back Battles) will
    be in the Spring on 2016. That is when Zaire, Kizer and Blake Barnett will go at it. That will be a “wide open” and competitive battle.

    Sure there is wood to chop at QB this Spring. From here, the more intriguing battles are on the OL, S and ILB. A fun Spring!

    To Damian’s comment, Brian Kelly noted last Spring that Golson had so increased his learning curve and grasp of the offensive system, that
    he (Golson) was almost overeager to play with all the tools.

    Further, the Golson year away was handled magnificently. He almost blended a sabbatical (from sabbath, a good time to reflect reevaluate and reestablish priorities)_ with the “continuing ed” from the quarterback guru.

    Further, if he returnse to campus in December, there are a full 9 months before we take the field against Rice.

    1. EG has handled his time away well, apparently. He wants to come back to ND, and he hasn’t wasted his time away lamenting what happened. He is determined to come back and wants to be the starter next year.

      He’ll have to show improvement at spring practice of course. That would probably be the case in any event.

      It will be very interesting to see the Blue-Gold game, assuming he’s back. Next year can be very exciting for ND football on offense. With the RB’s and WR’s and if EG is back, that should make a huge difference. Many of us last year noted EG is perfect for BK’s offensive system.

      And I was impressed with the way he handled himself at the NC. While much of the team looked shell shocked, he looked hungry. And he looked angry and PO’d at their poor performance. He was one of the few that didn’t look overwhelmed by Alabama.

    2. Considering how much crap has happened at this particular position the last 4 years, I am a little hesitant to speculate what EG’s role may or may not be at this juncture. ANYTHING could possibly happen. As much as I was depressed after last January’s debacle, nothing was worse in May when the thought of fall coming with EG very seasoned and ready to run that offense THEN……..EG is dismissed and most likely TR will be the damn starting QB. Talk about depression and anticipation being drained. Tell you what, I will get excited around August when we will have a better idea who will be playing QB. MZ may also be even on a faster learning curve than EG, so don’t be surprised if a different picture ends up being “painted.” Anything is possible at the QB position and if anything, we have come to learn this in the last 4 years as it pertains to this team.

  7. I wonder if Kelly still uses the reality video game system or helmet cams to prepare his quarterbacks. If he does then maybe the kid that learns faster than the the other kid will actually be the best man for the job. From where I sit, it’s been a long time since ND has had a Quarterback with a complete physical skillset and the knowledge to run Kelly’s offensive system dynamically. We saw glimpses from EG last year but the winner of this QB battle should be something special.

  8. Why even write an article like ths? Are you all out of your minds?

    Golson hasn’t lost a game he has played in other than the NC, which was a total team letdown with him being one of the brighter spots of the game. He actually progressed as the season went on. And I truly believe he was held back from Kelly a bit. We barely ran him on designed runs last year and it may have been because we couldn’t afford to lose him for good. Now that we have Zaire backing him up, look for Golson to run a whole lot more this year.

    If Golson isn’t the starting QB next year from the get go, I will be completely shocked. I don’t think there is even a need to talk about a QB battle. Zaire is going to be good but Golson is the man. Knowing what he has gone through and him hopefully realizing what he lost not playing this year will hopefully make him hungry to succeed more than ever.

    1. I tend to agree it’s Golson’s to lose. But he’s still going to have to earn it back.

      I also agree you’ll probably see a wider playbook by BK next year. Last year, EG progressed, but still needed experience. This year, Rees was not the ideal QB for BK’s system, which limited the playbook. Next year, I hope to see things opened up much wider.

    2. Regarding the BCSNC 2013 first quarter. Tyler Eifert made that catch on 3rd down putting the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the RED ZONE. The “l.e.t.d.o.w.n.” was officiating especially early while ND was in a position to gain momentum and make a heavyweight battle with those country boys. K. Herbstreit + Brent Musberger both emphatically stated (on air) that the bad call would be reversed upon further review!

      1. Have to disagree, we lost that game not because of that call, but because Bama was a freaking juggernaut of a team and was way better than ND. As much as I hate to say that, it’s the truth.

  9. I think Golson will have to re-earn his job, assuming he is re-admitted. I would think he expects that as well. That’s as it should be. He has to show he’s the best candidate. If he is as well conditioned as the article notes, one would think he’d probably get it, but there are never any guarantees.

    I think not burning Zaire’s redshirt was smart. If EG does come back and is the starter for the next 2 years (I assume he can’t get this past year’s eligibility back, but I may be wrong), then Zaire would be the heir apparent and we’d have 2 years of Zaire. If EG is better than 2012, and Zaire’s as good as everyone says, that’s 4 years of having a top notch QB, a great position to be in (not to mention, should EG be the starter and get injured, you’d have a solid back-up to take his place).

    I do think, EG as starter or not, BK should get Zaire some on field time next year. Certainly in any blow-out games should they occur (and give him meaningful plays) but also designing some plays for Zaire would be a good idea.

    And having Zaire as a back-up to EG, should EG get his starting job back, could push EG to play harder and be a better QB so he doesn’t lose his job.

    I think all those are plusses. I’ve been a BK defender thus far. I expected some bumps this year because of the QB predicament, so I’ve had patience for BK. But with EG or Zaire at QB (esp. a conditioned, experienced EG) I would expect to see improvement next year. Otherwise, it may be time to examine some of the assistant coaches (I’d probably give BK one more year after that).

  10. put Golson as a slot receiver. With his running skills and speed, seems to me like a obvious position for him in our offense.

  11. There is no doubt that whoever becomes the ND QB will be better than Rees.
    It’s hard to believe that he could end up third on the passing list. the other thing that seems ridiculous is that Zaire has a shot at beating out Golson for the starting job. No way that happens unless Golson decides to get help with another exam. I hope he’s learned his lesson. I’m somewhat amazed that Zaire didn’t get any real experience. using Hendrix was a complete waste of time. ND’s running backs and receiver core seems solid, whether the defense will hold up seems to be the big question. Lots of good players leaving. let’s hope Kelly can do better than 8-4. Go ND!

      1. TR may be good, but he is far from steady. that is his big knock — he’s erratic. He goes along well & then makes that poor/dumb throw. Against inferior competition, he can usually do enough positive things to make up for it. However, against the better teams, he can’t.

      2. Bart Starr was the same way at Alabama & he was slow to learn. That is until he met a figure who made a difference Vince Lombardi.

  12. This QB battle is going to be so much better than the Rees/Crist battle. The winner of this QB competition is going to add a running element that this offense needs. Both have strong arms and will be exciting to watch.

    Thanks for the help Tommy, but it’s time for a new QB at ND.

    1. TOTALLY agree, scav. Props to Tommy. A 3-star recruit (I think) put in charge of Notre Dame’s offense, and he wins 2/3 of his games? Laudatory. But his dearth of speed crippled the Championship quality of BK’s offense. We’ve seen how Ev can command the Irish-O. BK has indicated that there’ll be competition between Ev & Zaire. That means Malik HAS learned + taken-in the offense from the side-lines. scav’s last line is exactly how I felt… last year! Ev’s irresponsibility (sorry, “academic poor judgement”) delayed progress for this year. Next year is promising. GO IRISH!

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