Kicking off a new series of posts we’ll be rolling out over the next few weeks today. Normally we do a standard “depth chart analysis” type review of each position group for Notre Dame. This year we’re going to review what’s better and worse about each and then judge whether or not we think the position will be better or worse for Notre Dame this season.
Notre Dame Quarterback Depth Chart
Experience. Notre Dame is vastly more experienced at the quarterback position this year. A year ago at this time Malik Zaire had one start under his belt. Deshone Kizer had not attempted a pass in a game since high school. Brandon Wimbush was still just months removed from being in high school. This year Zaire has another two starts while Kizer has 10. Wimbush meanwhile has spent almost an entire season as a back up quarterback and saw reps in a few games.
Zaire’s only start prior to last year came in the Music City Bowl against LSU. Last year alone the combination of Zaire and Kizer started on the road against Clemson and Stanford, in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State, and at home versus Texas and USC.
Depth. As a result of being more experienced, Notre Dame has a ridiculous amount of depth at the quarterback position. Remember the days of having a quarterback depth chart with Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix occupying the top positions? Yeah, those days are long gone. Notre Dame has three highly talented quarterbacks capable of leading the Irish to victory any given Saturday taking up the top three positions of the depth chart.
Notre Dame also added Ian Book in this past recruiting cycle to round out the depth chart giving Notre Dame four scholarship quarterbacks on the roster for the first time in a while. While Wimbush would get the call over Book for anything other than mop up duty, Wimbush will hopefully be able to keep a redshirt this year after being forced into duty last year.
Talent. The players on the depth chart are largely the same in 2016, but with each having another year of experience, the talent level at the position is higher than it was a year ago. Last July people were questioning what type of future Deshone Kizer had at Notre Dame. Many felt Wimbush would come in and pass him up on the depth chart with Kizer falling to obscurity. That all changed one Saturday afternoon in Charlottesville, Virginia.
A year ago we didn’t know if Notre Dame had a quarterback capable of leading the Fighting Irish to the playoffs. We thought Zaire had that ability but still weren’t sure. Now we know Zaire and Kizer, at least, have that type of talent.
Uncertainty. The one area where Notre Dame is worse at quarterback this year is the uncertainty surrounding the position. Notre Dame is in the midst of yet another quarterback derby. Last year Zaire was the unquestioned starter and leader of the offense heading into camp. This year he might be trailing Kizer in the race to be the starting quarterback Labor Day weekend in Austin.
By not having a clear starter, Brian Kelly will have to continue to divide reps in practice until one of the two begins to emerge. That means less reps for the eventual starter for at least the first few weeks of camp most likely.
Uncertainty at QB at Ohio State last year impacted the Buckeye offense almost the entire season until Urban Meyer stuck with a quarterback. Kelly and his staff must learn from Meyer’s mistake in order to avoid the same outcome. Once Kelly picks his starter, he’s got to stick with him baring injury or disaster.
The common perception is the Kelly can’t go wrong with either Kizer or Zaire and they may be right. Kelly can go wrong with how he manages the situation though.
Coaching. Notre Dame has one of the best quarterback coaches in the country in Mike Sanford. The up and coming Sanford had an immediate and positive impact on the Notre Dame offense and while I was tempted to list coaching under “Better” since Sanford is a bit more comfortable in year two, the offensive coaching is largely the same. The level of coaching the quarterback position gets at Notre Dame is second to none in the country right now.
It’s impossible to say the quarterback position at Notre Dame this fall is anything but better than it was a year ago. Notre Dame is more experienced, talented, and deeper at the position than the days of a guy named Montana being a third stringer. All that said, Notre Dame could end up with worse production out of the position if Kelly and Sanford mismanage the situation like Meyer and his staff did at Ohio State for the majority of the season in 2015.
We will have much more on the Notre Dame quarterback derby 2016 edition throughout the summer, but the important thing to know right now is that Notre Dame is loaded at the position. From a talent and depth perspective, there has not been a single season in which Notre Dame was this well position at quarterback since we started UHND.com back in 1997.
2016 Better/Worse Summary
* Will be updated throughout July as this article series is published.