Everett Golson

Restocking: Quarterbacks

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When you look back at it, it’s remarkable how quickly Notre Dame has solidified the quarterback position. While most remember the Charlie Weis years as a golden era for Irish quarterbacks, the end of his regime brought great instability to the position.

Had Weis returned for the 2010 season, he’d have likely done it without Jimmy Clausen. That means he’d have opened spring practice with an unproven quarterback recovering from an ACL injury and a depth chart that included… well — not much.

There’s little belief that even if Weis had stayed around that Clausen would have returned for his senior season. And as we saw this season at Kansas, any perceived alchemy between Dayne Crist and Weis likely would’ve produced fool’s gold.

While Brian Kelly may have earned some second-guessing for the way he handled Crist, one of the team’s undisputed leaders in those early transitional years, there’s no questioning his ability to restock the depth chart at a positive absolutely integral to the health of a football program. From the moment Kelly took over the Irish, he recruited the quarterback position hard, filling the depth chart to the point that many now wonder if the depth currently collected is sustainable.

Entering the 2013 season, Notre Dame might have one of the most enviable depth charts in all of college football. An emerging star in Everett Golson. A battle-tested number two in Tommy Rees. An elite youngster in Gunner Kiel. At one point, Andrew Hendrix looked like the future of the Irish, and right now he’s likely the No. 4 quarterback. And that doesn’t even take into consideration Malik Zaire, another dual-threat quarterback that impressed on the national scene this season.

Let’s take a look back at the quarterback position, and look at the war chest the Irish have collected.

2009
Empty

2010
Andrew Hendrix — Irish held off Urban Meyer and Florida for Hendrix. Saw spot duty in 2011.
Luke Massa — Late offer by Kelly. Now a reserve wide receiver who had an ACL tear last season.
Tommy Rees — Early enrollee spent time in two seasons as starter, before backing up Golson in 2012.

2011
Everett Golson — A long time commit to North Carolina, Golson was Kelly’s first true dual-threat QB.

2012
Gunner Kiel — A whirlwind recruitment ended with Kiel enrolling at ND, to Les Miles’ surprise.

2013
Malik Zaire — The Irish landed Zaire early, and he became a ringleader of the recruiting class.

Way too early spring projection

Expect to see a ton of Gunner Kiel this spring. Getting him involved in the offense, even though there’s no doubt that the job is Everett Golson’s, is key to the overall health of the program. For Kelly and Chuck Martin, selling Kiel on the future of this team won’t be tough — especially with the onus on competition, and Kelly’s proclivity for playing multiple quarterbacks.

Finding snaps for the five quarterbacks on the roster might be difficult during the Blue-Gold game, but this spring should be dedicated to advancing the offense and the base level of knowledge for the entire offense, a unit that looked mighty rudimentary at times last season, and showed just how far it had to go during the BCS Championship game against Alabama.

While Golson’s job might be safe, this is a huge spring developmentally for him. Expect Golson to be challenged openly by both his coaches and his competition, with the meeting room just as important for the rising junior quarterback as the practice field. Without Tyler Eifert as a human mismatch, the evolution of the offense will depend on the quarterback position making quicker, more decisive decisions.

 

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

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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.

 

 

Jaylon Smith goes to Dallas with 34th pick

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07:  Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates by wearing the hat of team mascot, Lucky The Leprechaun, following their 42-30 win against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith’s nightmare is over.

After watching his football life thrown into chaos with a career-altering knee injury, Smith came off the board after just two picks in the second round, selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 34th pick. His selection ended the most challenging months of Smith’s young life, and come after cashing in a significant tax-free, loss-of-value insurance policy that’ll end up being just shy of a million dollars.

No, it’s not top-five money like Smith could’ve expected if he didn’t get hurt. But Smith isn’t expected to play in 2016.

And while there was a pre-draft fascination that focused on the doom and gloom more than the time-consuming recovery, it’s worth pointing out that Dallas’ medical evaluation comes from the source—literally. After all, it was the Cowboys team doctor, Dr. Dan Cooper, who performed the surgery to repair Smith’s knee.

Smith joins Ezekiel Elliott with the Cowboys, arguably the two best position players in the draft. While he might not be available in 2016, Smith will be under the supervision of the Cowboys’ medical staff, paid a seven-figure salary to get healthy with the hopes that he’ll be back to his All-American self sooner than later, especially as the nerve in his knee returns to full functionality.

Will Fuller brings his game-changing skills to the Texans offense

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07: Will Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass before running into the endzone for a touchdown in the second quarter in front of Avonte Maddox #14 of the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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In all the weeks and months leading up to the NFL Draft, one key tidbit linking Will Fuller to the Houston Texans never seemed to come up. The relationship between Brian Kelly and Bill O’Brien.

The two coaches share a high school alma mater, a friendship that made the due diligence on Notre Dame’s prolific playmaker easy. And it was clear that after all their research, Houston was aggressive in their pursuit of Fuller, trading up to make Notre Dame’s All-American the second receiver off the board, triggered a run at the position.

“He was a guy that we felt strongly about,” Texans general manager Rick Smith told the team’s official website. “We didn’t want to take a chance on not getting him. We were aggressive. We went and made the move.”

That move made Fuller’s decision to leave Notre Dame after three seasons a good one. While it’ll require the Irish to rebuild at a position where Fuller served as one of college football’s best home run hitters, it gives Houston a vertical threat that can extend the top of a defense for a Texans offense that was serious about finding some solutions for a team already in the playoff mix.

Yes, Fuller has work to do. Completing the easy catch is one big area. But for all the pre-draft talk about his limitations, Brian Kelly took on some of the criticism head-on when talking with the Texans’ media reporter.

“Some people have compared him to Teddy Ginn, that’s not fair. He can catch the ball vertically like nobody I’ve coached in 25 years,” Kelly said (a sentiment some hack also laid out). Teddy Ginn is a very good player, but this is a different kind of player. If you throw the ball deep, he’s going to catch the football.”

Fuller is never going to be the biggest receiver on the field. But while most of the banter on his game focused on the negative or his deep ball skills, expect Fuller to find a role not just running deep but unleashed in the screen game as well. After the Texans spent huge on quarterback Brock Osweiler and have invested in fellow Philadelphia native and 2015 third-round pick Jaelen Strong, Fuller wasn’t selected for the future but rather expected to be a day-one piece of the puzzle.

“This will change the speed on offense immediately,” Kelly said. “It was not ‘Hey, let’s wait a couple of years’. It was ‘Let’s go get this right now’ and I think Will will do that for them.”