Remaining Spring Priority for Notre Dame Football

Everett Golson - Notre Dame QB
Photo: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

With less than one week until Notre Dame’s annual Blue-Gold game – which serves as the culmination of spring practice – a multitude of storylines have emerged. Early enrollee freshman Jerry Tillery has built significant hype upon transitioning from offensive line to defensive line while senior wide receiver C.J. Prosise has experimented with a Percy Harvin-esque role within Notre Dame’s offense. The struggles of Notre Dame’s special teams have also been on display, raising questions as to whether or not true freshman kicker Justin Yoon can have an immediate impact upon arrival this summer. But those looking for an answer to Notre Dame’s biggest priority, the future starting quarterback, will have to wait until August.

Reports from spring practice sessions supplement UHND’s own spring observations of the quarterback competition indicating that Everett Golson currently has the edge, a fact head coach Brian Kelly alluded to recently when citing the “great” play of Golson in the pocket contrasted against the improvement of Zaire’s accuracy and timing. The battle to be named Notre Dame’s quarterback, however, is far more complicated than a mere one-on-one talent competition, and Brian Kelly will have to take Notre Dame’s long term future into consideration before making any final decision.

Malik Zaire has been the epitome of patience in his two years at Notre Dame, which began by foregoing his final semester of high school to enroll early in order to get a jumpstart on learning Kelly’s offense. Zaire remained quiet when Irish fans began clamoring for him to start in 2013 with Golson out for academic reasons, and turned the other cheek in 2014 when senior kicker Kyle Brindza berated him on national television after a missed 32-yard field goal attempt against Louisville on which he was the holder. He remained mum as Golson accounted for 12 fumbles, 14 interceptions and 27 sacks this past season, and did not once complain when yet another quarterback competition began this spring despite Zaire winning MVP honors against LSU in Notre Dame’s Music City Bowl.

But every person has their limits.

“It’s not the ideal situation,” Zaire recently told the media when asked about splitting quarterback duties with Golson. “At the end of the day, there’s only one Captain Jack Sparrow of the offense.”

Zaire’s message was clear: Notre Dame may decide to use two quarterbacks like it did against LSU, but there can only be one true leader at the position. And though Zaire has said he will accept whatever decision Kelly ultimately makes, it’s only natural to wonder how much longer Zaire is willing to wait.

If Everett Golson is indeed named the outright starter in Notre Dame’s 2015 season opener against Texas, will Zaire be willing to wait another season to get his chance, or will he begin to look elsewhere for playing time? The loss of Zaire to transfer would be a devastating development for the Notre Dame program. With Everett Golson graduating after this season, a Zaire transfer would leave Kelly with only DeShone Kizer and incoming freshman Brandon Wimbush as scholarship quarterbacks in 2016, and neither would have any playing experience. Such a scenario would be an extraordinary setback to a young but talented team ready to make a playoff run.

The other side of the equation isn’t much sunnier. Heading into his final year of eligibility, Golson will surely seek a fifth-year transfer if any indication is given that Malik Zaire will be the starter, leaving Notre Dame with a relatively inexperienced starting quarterback to oversee an offense that is expected to be explosive this fall.

Such scenarios illustrate the delicate balance Brian Kelly will have to take toward the quarterback position, and may very well explain why Notre Dame has expressed interest in using both quarterbacks this season. Should Kelly decide the best way to handle such a tough decision is by simply not making one and allowing Zaire and Golson to share time, will both quarterbacks buy in?

Despite the delicate balance that must be struck, the current problem is a good one to have. By all accounts Kelly has two quarterbacks that could start for different programs, a situation possibly only bested by Ohio State’s three-deep at the position. But if handled incorrectly, Notre Dame’s long term future could be at stake.

How Kelly intends to handle the uneasy rope he’s tight walking remains to be seen, but whatever route he takes with offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford will involve factors far beyond a simple head-to-head battle.

Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor. He talks football 24 hours a day, much to the chagrin of his wife and those around him. Scott can be reached at scottjanssenhp@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter.

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15 comments

  1. MikeT 5 years ago

    Duranko

    He worked for a State Senator in Mass. His Father is a politician in Mass. He worked on Gary Hart’s campaign for president.
    When he was coaching Cincinnati he was involved in local politics there even considered running for office. If you’ll remember when he was first hired there were some rumblings because the candidates he worked for and supported were Pro Choice on the abortion issue.

    There have been several of his early interviews where he has stated if he wasn’t coaching he’d like to run for political office. He’s got a degree in political science. Thanks for the correction on the plausible deniability must have been a dyslexic moment.

    By the way I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lou Holtz run for some type of office in central Florida now that he has departed from ESPN.

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  2. duranko 5 years ago

    I can’t speak for others, but I prefer plausible deniability to “deniable plausibility.”

    I must have missed these memos. When has Brian Kelly last been involved in politics?

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  3. Mike T 5 years ago

    I think if Golson starts, Zaire starts seriously looking for another place to play. The Gators would take him in a heartbeat. With two years elgibility left he’d be more in demand than Golson with only 1. Plus no special waiver is required in the SEC to tranfer Zaire, not so with Golson since he’s had academic problems. Just remember, when Brian Kelly is not coaching his other career is a politician. Trying to decipher his press conferences you must add things like deception and deniable plausibility to the mix. In other words all that praise for Golson may be to keep him off balance so he doesn’t bolt in May because he thinks he’s leading the competition.

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  4. duranko 5 years ago

    The riff about Sanford being uncomfortable is laughable. Kelly is an outstanding communicator, and he showed it during the Frozen Five issue, and the feed back that has been coming in afterward. Just as kelly paints an accurate picture of what to expect for a recruit, you can be damned sure that he communicated with chrystal clarity what Sanford’s role would be when he got here, and in the future years.

    This offensive mastermind will pay great benefits this year and in the future.

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  5. Ron Burgundy 5 years ago

    I actually hope the decision is made based on BMI Jerry.

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  6. IrishChan 5 years ago

    Golson will be named the starter and he will….dominate. And all the Goobers will be calling for him to win the hiesman. Lol Perhaps we should revisit the 1st 6 games of last season.

    It was his arm, extra yards, frozen ropes and come back wins that that kept the IRISH in ball games….and winning ball games. That’s with poor offensive line play, a broken down running game and very abismal defensive play. Not to mention coach Kelly admitting its hard to not throw the ball ore. Lol

    Most of…if not all of those areas have been corrected. Especially if the new offensive coordinator is given the keys to this offense. If so…..There will be an influx of babies named Golson in the late fall of 2015.

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  7. Jerry Seppanen 5 years ago

    I just hope the decision is made by who is best.

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  8. Bob Rodes 5 years ago

    I think that whoever comes out on top, will be slightly on top. If Zaire starts, Golson probably won’t like playing second fiddle to Zaire, and if that happens it will probably lower his draft position. But his choices will be either to try to get the job back or transfer, and either one is a gamble. Ideally, he wins the starting position and ND makes a deep run at the championship. Next best is he loses it, transfers, and wherever he winds up makes a deep run at the championship. But he’s not going to look any better handing the ball off to Fournette at LSU.

    Now, if Golson starts, Zaire would make a very bad decision for his future if he transferred. He has two years of eligibility after this year, so he’ll be the man starting in 2016. Also, if Golson fizzles or gets hurt he’s ready to walk in and take over. He wasn’t last year.

    One more thing. We talk a lot about the two QB’s having another year of experience, but from the comments I’m reading, neither Golson nor Zaire was quite ready for prime time last year. Golson with his turnovers, Zaire with his not quite putting it all on the table in practice. That’s partly on Kelly, and certainly partly on LaFleur. LaFleur is gone and Sanford is in. Sanford has a whole lot more to say about what he’s looking for than LaFleur did. His expectations are very clear even to me, and they start with fundamentals. Clear expectations and attention to fundamentals are critically important for any good teacher. So, it looks to me like Kelly took responsibility for the situation, by moving LaFleur out and getting Sanford to come. I’m looking forward to this year!

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  9. Hank prendergast 5 years ago

    Nobody,s going anywhere, Kelly’s going to get both substantial playing time.

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  10. Damian 5 years ago

    I agree. EG may be the “starter” against Texas, but with little margin for error. If he shows signs of unraveling, BK will quickly put in Zaire. Zaire has shown he is ready to lead the offense so BK will not not be reluctant to put Zaire in if EG is struggling.

    I think Zaire knows this so if he is not named starter against Texas, he will not immediately balk. And if EG stumbles and he makes the move to Zaire, it’ll be up to Zaire to keep the job. Then EG will not really have anyone to blame but himself. Ball security is an absolute must. If you can’t protect the ball you can’t play. Turnovers are basically free points to the other team (either directly if they score or even indirectly by taking the offense off the field).

    But at the end of the day, I agree with AJ. EG will have very little room for error.

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  11. AJ 5 years ago

    I think, just from understanding Kelly’s speech, Golson will be the starter against Texas. I am not an expert in reading ppl by no means, but just the way Kelly praises Golson over Zaire is an indication to me that he will be the starter. I believe Kelly will say they will use both QBs, but if Golson looks good against Texas, he will start without interruption. What changes this year is Golson’s room for error. I think Kelly has a magic number of turnovers/mistakes Golson makes and if he hits that, Kelly will play Zaire right away.

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  12. Jeff 5 years ago

    They are going to have to take the red jerseys off and let the QBs get hit in practice. Until then you will have no idea if EGs turnover problems are solved. If they aren’t going to do that you have to start Zaire. With the OL and running game they should have, you can’t turn the ball over. Pound the ball and play action.

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  13. david 5 years ago

    In a long list of not so intelligent decisions by Golson, his transferring to another team for one season might be the topper. But I agree. I think he transfers. I’m just getting a vibe that he and Kelly just don’t see eye to eye. Maybe it’s Kelly’s coaching style. I don’t think Sanford is going to like this arrangement either. I thought it would be a great year but if Kelly is calling the plays….not so much.

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  14. Jack 5 years ago

    I think Golson will transfer. Zaire will be named the starter and Winbush will sit this year. I like Everett and think he has been a class act, but I think he has some bad blood from the suspension and benching of last year.

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  15. Justin Burns 5 years ago

    I don’t think Zaire will transfer because he runs out of patience. If he transfers he has to sit out a year anyway so he doesn’t gain anything. And he basically knows he has the job once Golson leaves.

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