Malik Zaire

Kelly may have his perfect QB recruit in Malik Zaire

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If having two quarterbacks really means you have none, Irish fans must be wondering what having four quarterbacks does to a team. With the offseason headlines dominated by a four-headed quarterback race featuring Tommy Rees, Andrew Hendrix, Everett Golson and Gunner Kiel, the search for the Irish’s offensive leader overshadowed the commitment of Ohio quarterback Malik Zaire to the Notre Dame 2013 recruiting class. While Zaire has flown under the radar for Irish fans already trying to make sense of the current depth chart, he might be the perfect quarterback recruit for Brian Kelly’s offense, and one of the nation’s most exciting prospects.

Zaire’s invitation last week to the Elite 11 quarterback camp finals in Redondo Beach, California gives you an idea of what the ceiling is for a quarterback that’s just starting to understand how good he can be. With offers from schools like Alabama and Ohio State, Zaire’s upside seems to be truly elite, and the 6-foot-1, 190-pound junior will spend a week this summer working working alongside the top quarterbacks in the country at the Elite 11 camp, competing for a mythical crown that usually means the future is bright.

To get a better grasp on Zaire’s abilities, I spent some time with Yogi Roth, who hosts ESPN’s Elite 11 showcase and knows quite a bit about quarterback play himself. Roth has seen a lot of Notre Dame football. While he’s most widely associated with Pete Carroll’s USC program, where he worked his way up to quarterback coach of guys like John David Booty and Mark Sanchez, he’s followed Irish quarterbacks all the way back to when he was competing with Matt LoVecchio, Carlyle Holiday, and Jared Clark as a wide receiver at Pitt. (Before you accuse Roth of bias, he grew up an Irish fan, with an autographed poster of Ron Powlus adorning his bedroom wall.)

Roth recruited Dayne Crist for USC when he was a top Southern California prospect, coached against Jimmy Clausen and Brady Quinn. He hosted Everett Golson and Gunner Kiel at Elite 11 camps over the past two summers. To say he’s had a close look at Irish quarterbacks is an understatement. Ask Roth who he’d want of that group quarterbacking his team, and he might shock you when he doesn’t hesitate to pick the least hyped prospect of them all: Malik Zaire.

“If you look at his skill-set and where football is at this day and age, he’s a great vision of what the QB position is right now,” Roth said of Zaire’s abilities. “Sixteen of the top 25 teams in the country run a spread offense. The game has changed and the quarterback position has changed from just being a big guy that can throw the football to a quarterback that’s one of the best athletes on the field. That’s Malik.”

With Zaire labeled as a run-first type quarterback, I wanted to get a feeling from Roth just how good of a passer Zaire could be. With height (Zaire’s listed at 6-foot-1 on his Elite 11 profile) not one of his best assets, throwing the ball accurately will be a key to any future success at the college level. And it’s one area where Roth thinks Zaire will thrive.

“If you look at his skill set, he’s such a dynamic thrower,” Roth said. “He’s a pure passer, he’s so smooth that you forget how mobile he is.”

After glowing about Zaire’s athleticism and arm, Roth also pointed to the intangibles Irish fans are seeing as Zaire has taken a leadership role in building his recruiting class. The skills that are toughest to measure might be Roth’s favorite aspect of Zaire’s game.

“The biggest thing we saw was his competitiveness with his talent,” Roth said, noting Zaire was learning many of the drills for the first time. “Of all the quarterbacks I’ve mentioned, especially the ones that I’ve been around, he’s got the best presence. They’re all talented, but he’s got that natural knack. He lights up a room. From the moment he walked in with his mom to the day he said goodbye, he was fully engaged.”

Zaire’s invitation to Redondo Beach for the Elite 11 finals is likely only the beginning of an offseason that’ll see Zaire blossom into an elite player as a senior. And while we’re two full seasons away from seeing Zaire done the blue-and-gold for Notre Dame, Roth thinks the future is bright for the Irish will Zaire behind center.

“He might not walk in and save the day, but he’ll be an elite performer for the Fighting Irish.”

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You can catch Yogi as the host of ESPN’s The Elite 11 Quarterback Competition. He’s also an actor and a New York Times best-selling writer. His most recent book From PA to LA is available now.

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UPDATE: Now with tape from the Elite 11 camp in Columbus.

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley
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Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.

Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.

Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.

Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.

Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.

Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.

 

Robertson picks Cal over Notre Dame, UGA

Demetris Robertson
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Demetris Robertson‘s decision wasn’t trending in Notre Dame’s direction. But those that expected the Savannah star athlete to pick the in-state Bulldogs were in for a surprise when Robertson chose Cal on Sunday afternoon.

Notre Dame’s pursuit of the five-star athlete, recruited to play outside receiver and hopefully replace Will Fuller, likely ended Sunday afternoon with Robertson making the surprise decision to take his substantial talents to Berkeley. And give credit to Robertson for doing what he said all along—picking a school that’ll give him the chance to earn an exceptional education and likely contribute from Day One.

“I am excited to take my talents to the University of California, Berkeley. The first reason is that the education was a big part of my decision. I wanted to keep that foundation,” Robertson said, per CFT. “When I went there, it felt like home. Me and the coaching staff have a great relationship. That’s where I felt were the best of all things for me.”

Adding one final twist in all of this is that Robertson has no letter-of-intent to sign. Because he’s blown three months through Signing Day, Robertson merely enrolls at a college when the time comes. That means until then, Kirby Smart and the Georgia staff will continue to sell Robertson on staying home and helping the Dawgs rebuild. Smart visited with Robertson Saturday night and had multiple assistant coaches at his track meet this weekend.

Summer school begins in June for Notre Dame. Their freshman receiving class looks complete with early enrollee Kevin Stepherson and soon-to-arrive pass-catchers Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.