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.
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.
Everett Golson — A long time commit to North Carolina, Golson was Kelly’s first true dual-threat QB.
Gunner Kiel — A whirlwind recruitment ended with Kiel enrolling at ND, to Les Miles’ surprise.
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.