Notre Dame Quarterbacks 2016: Better/Worse

Photo: Matt Cashore / USA Today Sports

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

 PlayerYearHeightWeight
1ADeshone KizerJunior6-4230
1BMalik ZaireSenior6-0222
3Brandon WimbushSophomore6-1216
4Ian BookFreshman6-0190

Better

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.

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Worse

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.

The Same

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.

The Verdict

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.

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2016 Better/Worse Summary

PositionBetter/Worse?PositionBetter/Worse?
QuarterbackBETTERDefensive Line
Running BackBETTERLinebacker
Wide ReceiverWORSESecondary
Tight EndBETTERKicker/Punter
Offensive LineReturn Units

* Will be updated throughout July as this article series is published.

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7 comments

  1. Bob 3 years ago

    Didn’t read any “hater” comments on Tommy. And I am a huge Tommy Rees fan! I loved all of the intangibles that he brought to field when called upon to play. Certainly far from the most physically talented QB that Notre Dame has ever had on the roster but he’ll always be my favorite. Now, back to this article…Kelly will have a challenge in handling this ‘full plate’ of QB’s. It can be a good problem of course but a problem nonetheless. I defer to his experience and Sanford’s in ensuring these guys are able to contribute as needed in whatever way toward leading this team to a national championship! Go Irish!

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  2. Joseph Wells 3 years ago

    Hey don’t be a Tommy hater. He filled the need and gave everything he had. He won games that looked out of reach and gave us some of the most exciting Irish wins. I’ll always remember Tommy as a winner.

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  3. Damian 3 years ago

    I say use the best tools you have for the situation. You need a consistent starter, yes. But I’d still use the other QB is situations designed to their strength. Zaire has a unique zone-read ability that isn’t easily duplicated. It would be foolish not to use that advantage in situations. Kizer also has his own unique skill sets and experience and it would be waste not to use that too.

    If BK handles it the right way, I think the players will buy in. There is a prestige obviously to being the starter, but both should get playing time.

    The worse thing he could do would be the start one and sideline the other. That would open the door to the other wanting to leave. I think they both need to feel like they are contributing.

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  4. Adam Hug 3 years ago

    I like the position we are in at QB. I think Kelly and company really paid attention to OSU’s issues last year and one thing Kelly is great at is learning from others and well as his own mistakes. Look for Kelly to name a starter by the second week of camp. I truly believe it will be Zaire as well. I know everyone is predicting Kizer and I would not be surprised, but remember MZ is a year older and Kelly is loyal to the older guys! (remember when Zaire was better than Golson two years ago, but Kelly stuck with him) I think in Kelly’s mind as well as us fans, the perfect way for this to play out is MZ starts this year, stays healthy, puts up great numbers and has us in the playoff mix. He then goes to the NFL, is picked on later than the second round. In 2017 Kizer repeats the same success and the same scenario plays out, then it’s Wimbush’s turn in 2018. Two QBs taken high in back to back years would be tremendous for recruiting and it’s already going well now at least on offense. Also mark this note down……Ian Book will be the next Kizer! Obviously not the same build, but in the manner of being overlooked only to amaze the Irish faithful with his intangibles when his time comes and it will!

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  5. Joe McLaughlin 3 years ago

    Far and away the statistics indicate that the field general has to be in charge. That means one leader, one quarterback taking meaningful game snaps. The 2 quarterback system causes confusion except those specialty situ’s which are actually few in the game.

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  6. HURLS 3 years ago

    @kansirkid – I trust BK as well. But I think he’s of the mind-set “If you have 2 QB’s, you have none” – with a strong emphasis on the good ‘ole “next stud in” mantra. Like you, I trust him.

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  7. kansirkid 3 years ago

    Kelly is going to do what HE wants I am thinking he will play the QB depending upon the opponents defense scheme. I trust him…

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