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Spring Solutions: Quarterback

Mar 12, 2013, 11:42 PM EDT

Rees Golson Kiel

It’s been a long time since Notre Dame’s quarterback position has had the type of stability that it now enjoys. So while Brian Kelly likely touted the idea that every quarterback would be competing for the starting job, you can’t blame redshirt freshman Gunner Kiel for reading the writing on the wall.

With Everett Golson returning after an impressive freshman campaign, and back-up seniors Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix still viable options in case the case of an injury, Kiel’s path to the starting lineup didn’t look any closer, with a source telling me that Kelly told Kiel he’d open at No. 3 heading into spring drills.

With Kiel’s high-profile departure, a few new scenarios open up. For early enrollee Malik Zaire, the starting lineup just got a whole lost closer, especially with Rees and Hendrix not long for the Irish roster after this season. And as the Irish coaching staff canvas the country for elite prep arms, a spot on the roster for a 2014 quarterback just got a whole lot more attractive.

Let’s take a look at the projected positional depth chart, and set some spring goals for the Irish quarterbacks.


1. Everett Golson, Jr.
2. Tommy Rees, Sr.
3. Andrew Hendrix, Sr.
4. Malik Zaire, Fr.


Everett Golson: There’s plenty of good to take away from Golson’s debut season. Namely, Golson’s impressive work leading the Irish to a 12-1 record, and throwing twice as many touchdowns as interceptions, no easy task for a freshman learning on the job.

Still, there were some very visible growing pains this season for the rising junior quarterback, and this spring should be the time where Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin ride Golson hard, challenging the quarterback to match his football acumen with his athleticism.

We’ve learned a few things about Golson after his first season at the helm of the Irish offense. We knew he had the arm strength needed to make every throw on the field. We also knew he had the ability to evade the pass rush, extending plays with his legs by keeping his eyes down field. And while we thought Golson would anchor a zone-read heavy running game, there’s not the top end, break-away speed at quarterback that many expected, though that hardly prohibits the Irish from utilizing Golson on the ground.

Matching up Golson’s debut season with Irish quarterbacks of the past isn’t a safe exercise. If it were the point would quickly be rendered moot. It blew the doors off of just about every first-year starter in modern history with hardly a comparable — unless you consider the unlikely debut of Matt LoVecchio.

There’s no question Golson is the quarterback of the future. But for the Irish to have another great season, they’ll need the offense not limited by its quarterback, but thriving because of him.

Tommy Rees: After a season spent vindicating himself after Irish fans put 2011’s underwhelming performance on his shoulders, Rees reframed his legacy with an incredible season in relief. Called upon in multiple high leverage situations, Rees answered the bell in each case, helping the Irish seal victories against Purdue, Michigan, Stanford, BYU, Oklahoma, and Pitt.

While his stats actually took a step backwards from his sophomore season numbers, Rees embodied the personality of the offense — a resilient player that might not have been impressively efficient, but gutted the job out and got it done.

In his final season of eligibility, expect Rees to once again be a fireman. And with Golson more at ease in the starting job, if Rees does see the field it’ll be for a very specific reason. Still, at every program, veteran leadership at the quarterback position is a valuable commodity. For Rees, that could be cashed in helping Golson in the film room, helping Zaire learn the ropes, and the offense in the clutch.

Andrew Hendrix: After losing the training camp battle for the starting job, Hendrix became the odd man out in the offense. He saw action in only a handful of games, putting together a stat line in only three games, Navy, BYU, and Wake Forest.

At this point, it’s clear what Hendrix is and what he isn’t. And while he possesses a skillset unique to the quarterback depth chart, it’s pretty clear that the offensive plans don’t include the once highly touted recruit from Cincinnati.

While Hendrix’s career might continue somewhere else in 2014, he’s not likely to go anywhere until after he receives his degree from Notre Dame. And in the meantime, with the depth chart established ahead of him, maybe there’s finally a package that can utilize the battering ram of a quarterback. Sure, the window closed on Hendrix being the next rifle armed passer at Notre Dame. But that doesn’t mean the offense can’t carve out a role for him.

Malik Zaire: This season just got a whole lot more interesting for Zaire, who no longer sees a logjam in front of him. That said, his job will likely be the same as it would’ve been with Kiel still on campus. Zaire will take part in spring drills, likely drinking from the same fire hydrant that overwhelmed Rees, Hendrix and Golson.

But that hasn’t stopped Zaire from preparing like he’s fighting for a job. The freshman is down in Arizona training with veteran teammates over spring break, forgoing time at home with his family for a few extra minutes of conditioning and drill work in the desert. It may not pay off in the short term, but it gives you a very good idea of what kind of player the Irish have waiting in the wings.

  1. norvturnersneck - Mar 13, 2013 at 1:03 AM

    Keep prepping Malik, you will be there one day. I’m glad Rees is helping out his other QBs. If we can get Rees to help the other QBs make adjustments at the line like he did, then next year Everett will look better. I’m excited for the new season. We will rely more on offensive output, but not only on it like in year’s past.

    Go Irish!!

    • poppyitis - Mar 13, 2013 at 4:30 PM

      There was a time when gossip was not permitted in the so called news. As for Kiel, where ever he goes, even to division 3, he will have competition. He is also one play away from being a starter. Kiel is next in line. Do you remember a QB named Kevin McDoald or maybe McDougle who waited 4 years to become the starter and had a GREAT season.

      • ibleedirish - Mar 13, 2013 at 4:35 PM

        I’m curious, what gossip are you referencing?

  2. yaketyyacc - Mar 13, 2013 at 6:30 AM

    Malik will be no 2 and very close to no 1 as the season progresses. he is NOtre Dame’s johnny football. Golson is good and improving, still, even his talent dims in face of Malik.
    The entire team needs far more speed. We didn’t miss tackles against Alabama, they just were to fast for our defense and their dedense was too fast for our offense.
    You have to start the season at full speed and get better. you have to WIN the National Championship. THE IRISH ARE COMING!

    • bernhtp - Mar 13, 2013 at 9:16 AM

      Manziel wasn’t a freshman this year; he is a sophomore with a redshirted freshman season. I’m not sure there is any amount of talent in a true freshman that would propel him to a starter role under Kelly absent serious injury to the upper classmen.

  3. ajw21 - Mar 13, 2013 at 7:19 AM

    yak: I got to disagree. Malik will redshirt. Only way he plays is if all 3 qbs ahead of him get hurt. I do believe he will start eventually and get some pt in 2014 but I don’t see him playing in 2013.
    Go Irish!

  4. mediocrebob - Mar 13, 2013 at 7:26 AM

    Agreed ajw. Zaire needs time. Good thing for him is that barring injury he’ll get just that.

  5. 1historian - Mar 13, 2013 at 9:26 AM

    When Golson started last season he had been at ND for 18 months. Come this September he will have been there for 2 1/2 years, yet everyone still seems to be trying to make excuses for him.

    The best QB is the one who comes on the field and by word or action or both says to his teammates “follow me.” At the same time he scares the opposing defense into maybe a quarter or half step of indecision, and that is enough.

    And as an added bonus – he gets old farts like me to jump up and down and scream and yell and holler.

    We expect wondrous things from the Notre Dame QB. That is unfair to be sure, but that’s the way it is.

    • ibleedirish - Mar 13, 2013 at 11:41 AM

      You really didn’t see any wondrous things from a red-shirt freshman this year? How about the scramble and TD toss across the field in the MSU game? Name one other QB on the roster that could have done that. The clutch pass to Brown at Oklahoma to seal the game? Pretty wondrous in my book. Scramble and pass to Eifert in the Pitt game? Flat out amazing play. Of course there were setbacks, plenty of them. He was a first year starter people. If you really aren’t excited about the future, after a couple years with concrete shoes and a rag arm at QB, then you are the worst kind of pessimist.

      • 1historian - Mar 13, 2013 at 4:38 PM

        Your opinion of Golson is that he came up with wondrous things and ‘flat out amazing play’. Mine differs. Granted he had his moments but at no time did I get the impression that he had – has? – the leadership qualities that we need at the position.

        Kelly is the one who makes the final decision in these matters, and he did not hesitate to pull Golson and put in a very capable backup in Rees. He did it enough times during the season that Rees became known as Golson’s ‘relief pitcher’. Maybe Golson is the one to lead us to the NC but I have not seen anything on a CONSISTENT basis that leads me to believe he is.

        To accuse me of not being excited about the future (I am and have said so numerous times) and of being ‘the worst kind of pessimist’ is a bit silly.

        OMT – If Golson does lead us to the NC either this year or the next or the next after that then I invite you to call me out and I will do a ‘mea culpa’ for you.

  6. bernhtp - Mar 13, 2013 at 9:29 AM

    I’m less concerned about Zaire than the #2 QB. If Golson sustains a significant injury – one that knocks him out for multiple games – I frankly don’t want Rees in as the starting QB. While Tommy does a good job at game-managing a situation in the pinch, his limitations have proven too easy for opponents to effectively game plan. I’m hoping that Hendrix has progressed, especially mentally, beyond the last meaningful snaps we saw him play at Air Force and second half of USC two seasons ago. He certainly has the physical tools and it would be great to see him develop that football je ne sais quoi.

    • 1historian - Mar 13, 2013 at 9:39 AM

      Hendrix does seem to be the forgotten man here.

      If Golson sustains a meaningful injury and is out for a number of games Rees steps up. Or would they try Zaire? Or would they try Hendrix, or would they make Massa a QB again?

      Next year they will only have 2 QBs – Golson and Zaire. That means probably 2 in this year’s recruiting class.

      • dmac4real - Mar 13, 2013 at 10:26 AM

        The QBs for the 2014 class are not good. I would imagine we only take 1.

      • ibleedirish - Mar 13, 2013 at 11:04 AM

        Forgotten? I don’t think so. I’d imagine he’s very present in his teamates and coaches minds. He simply doesn’t have what it takes to be the starting quarterback at Notre Dame, and that’s ok. It happens all the time.

        I do agree with Keith in that I think there are some interesting opportunities to use him similar to the “Bell-dozer”.

        I sure do like everything I continue to hear about Malik. And on the same token, the more chatter I hear about Gunner, it makes me think he’s better off in the MAC. Good luck to him. It is going to make it interesting next year when its Golson (Gholston), Zaire, and ?.

      • bernhtp - Mar 13, 2013 at 11:41 AM

        Hendrix isn’t forgotten, but he is obviously dismissed as the #2 behind Golson. I don’t know his developmental status (others here don’t either), but he brings enormous advantages relative to Rees, assuming he can stop hitting OLBs in the middle of the chest with the ball. Andrew often seems anxious and the game seems to go to fast for him. With that said, if he progresses mentally (an extra couple of years should help), he brings:

        1. A big arm – at least as big as Golson’s. He’s also pretty accurate, though where he decides to throw it is not always good. His anxiety seems to often cause him to throw short passes too hard. It’s always a fastball.

        2. Fast and tough runner. While not quite as elusive as Golson in sidestepping the rush, he has proven to be a fast and powerful runner – with higher top-end speed than Golson – and runs the read option better than any of the other QBs.

        3. Durable. He is resilient, even when taking on LBs head-on at full speed. He would need to pick his spots for such aggression, but he’s proven he can take big hits.

        4. Smart. He’s a really smart kid, at least in an intellectual sense. You would think that his football IQ would catch up with time. He also seems to be a great all-around kid and an articulate leader.

        5. Another year of eligibility. Unlike Tommy, Andrew has another year available if he proves his worth.

        Again, all of this assumes that Hendrix has continued to develop, especially mentally. I’m not suggesting that he should be the starter, but that I would love him to be an alternative to Rees as the #2, particularly for an extended period, because we know what Tommy-ball looks like in the long run.

      • ibleedirish - Mar 13, 2013 at 11:46 AM

        Bern, I completely agree. I’d love for Hendrix to be the gameday number two. We’ve harped on Rees enough, but BYU proved our points. He’s just too easy to defend. Its that “speed of the game” thing with Hendrix, he always looks nervous as hell, I just don’t know if he can catch up.

    • irish4006 - Mar 13, 2013 at 7:14 PM

      “I’m less concerned about Zaire than the #2 QB. If Golson sustains a significant injury – one that knocks him out for multiple games – I frankly don’t want Rees in as the starting QB.”

      Which is why I think it is a big mistake for Kiel to transfer. Even if everything goes as planned, I assume Kelly would have found a way to get him on the field in 2013 and have some significant playing time for him the next. If he is as good as we thought he was, he would have the opportunity to have a couple of monster years on a great team before his career is over. It is his life and his decision (I wish him luck), but I fail to see how transferring helps him in any way. If he wants to play this year, it would be at D2 level in less than optimal situation, or ride the bench at another D1 school. How is it any better than officially being no. 3 (technically no. 2 for the time being) at ND?

    • rayguy14 - Mar 13, 2013 at 9:20 PM

      Great point on Rees. He may be solid in the role of fireman but if Golson sustains a significant injury, I am not comfortable with him stepping into the starting role. The guy reached his ceiling in the Utah game of his first season filling in for Crist. All I know is that Hendrix must not have it…if Kelly didn’t trust him enough to put him in for Rees during the 2011 season, he’ll never get a chance now…unless somehow he progressed that much in his 3rd/4th year in the system (doubtful).

  7. dudeacow - Mar 13, 2013 at 12:03 PM

    Wow, Rees is a senior. It doesn’t seem like that long ago when he was that frosh throwing the game-sealing interception against Tulsa.
    Zaire is going to be REALLY good. I’ve read from multiple sources that if he were 6′ 4″, he would be the #1 QB recruit this year. His throwing motion is really smooth and he looks plenty accurate. I hope our right tackle is good, though, because it will be his job to protect the blind side. Start preparing now, McGlinchey.

  8. ndrocks2 - Mar 13, 2013 at 12:07 PM

    Kiel leaving IS a big deal, if Golson goes down and so far he seems a little fragile as witnessed by Rees still getting in games off and on throughout the season. Zaire is or should be redshirted his high school in Ohio is pretty small and he played against teams where he was physically dominant. This leaves us in the same old dilemma Rees vs. Hendrix as backup. Both options should give us pause for concern to say the least. Knock on wood my friends for Golson because all of a sudden we are one hit or pulled hammy away from one or the other.

  9. irish13pa - Mar 13, 2013 at 12:33 PM

    NDrocks2…. I agree, Kiel leaving is a very bid deal and a very bad deal for ND. If Golston goes down to injury or does not improve it will be a long season for sure.
    Anyone thinking Zaire will compete this year is out to lunch. From all reports I read, the kid can not hit the broad side of a barn. Yes he appears to be quick… who cares. No matter what qb is playing, this offence needs a qb who can throw. Just imagine another season of a stripped down and slow running offence. How many 3 and outs can the offence take this year?
    Here’s to hoping Golston stays healthy and keeps improving….

    • bernhtp - Mar 13, 2013 at 1:44 PM

      Let’s get the misspelling correct;it’s “Ghoulstone” not “Golston.” Don’t be an amateur.

      Also, an “offence” is not anything found in American Football. Brits might give you a yellow card for one, however.

      • jpwills19 - Mar 13, 2013 at 4:24 PM

        Minor correction: it’s “Gallstone,” not “Ghoulstone.”

  10. bernhtp - Mar 13, 2013 at 3:57 PM

    I just hope that if Golson goes down, there aren’t numerous plumes of black smoke before a replacement is found.

  11. 1historian - Mar 13, 2013 at 4:54 PM

    Golson will start

    Rees is #1 backup

    Hendrix is #2 backup.

    Zaire? Who knows?

    IMO Rees will someday be a good coach somewhere but he is not big league talent. (We already know that.) Hendrix? He’s a senior and it is my understanding that he is in pre-med and that means he is aiming for med school, which means that football for him ends after the next bowl game. Would he ask for a 5th year? Why would he do that?

    Zaire? Who knows?

    I’ve been called ‘the worst kind of pessimist’ for my doubting Golson, but – nothing I’ve seen makes me change my opinion of him. He’s got loads of talent but I’ve seen nothing that tells me that he is THE ONE.

    I speak as a (Certified) old fart who has been watching football on TV for 50+ years – with the beer gut to prove it.

    • ibleedirish - Mar 13, 2013 at 5:29 PM

      My bad. I thought we were looking for a talented quarterback capable of playing BCS quality football. You could have just cut to the chase and told us all you were waiting for Jesus 2.0

      • irish4006 - Mar 13, 2013 at 7:27 PM

        I LOLed.

        I am (sort of) in the corner of the ‘old fart’. Golson did a few good things but has not put together a stellar game from start to finish, yet. He has the talent and showed some poise under pressure, he still has some ways to go even before reaching the intermediate level between Golson today and Jesus 2.0.

        I hope he gets there and gets there quick. He has the arm, the elusiveness and the temperament; I am looking for consistency in finding the right guy and delivering a catchable ball to move the chains. We have some raw talent at the WR position. If “Ghoulstone” can bring the best out of them, you will be hearing his name in Heisman conversations.

  12. 1historian - Mar 13, 2013 at 4:57 PM

    170 and a wake up!

    You heard it here first

  13. irish4006 - Mar 13, 2013 at 7:32 PM

    Obligatory Kiel comment, “Why, dude? Why?” *grass is greener on the other side and all that*

    Stick around and good things will happen…

  14. rayguy14 - Mar 13, 2013 at 9:33 PM

    From everything I’ve read and seen (watching the Elite 11 camp), Zaire is the real quarterback of the future. Not only does he have the tangibles (arguably better than Golson), he by all accounts has the leadership, charisma, and clutch capability, necessary to be the starting QB at Notre Dame. This is something the Irish have been missing at that all important position for years…please don’t tell me about Brady Quinn (whose biggest win came against UCLA at home) or Jimmy Clausen who stated to Jon Gruden that his was @ Purdue. It makes me sick to even think about. Golson is solid and did a commendable job as a RS Frosh last season. I worry that he might not get much better. Zaire is gonna be that guy!

    • nudeman - Mar 13, 2013 at 10:21 PM

      I think you’re being a little hard on Golson.

      Simply put, if you look at how much better he was at the end of 2012 vs the beginning, you can easily conclude the kid is on a nice trajectory and there’s no reason to expect that’s going to level off right away.

      He had a 2-1 ratio of TDs to INTs as a redshirt frosh
      Beat USC, Stanford, MSU and Oklahoma; and 3 of those 4 were on the road.
      What more do you want?

      • idratherbeinsouthbend - Mar 13, 2013 at 11:24 PM

        Because i speak out when i disagree with nudey, it’s only appropriate that i speak out when he is 100% correct…..this is me speaking out because he’s 100% correct. I firmly believe..”<<>>”

        Furthermore, with respect to Zaire vs. Golson…I kinda view this as a Pamela Anderson vs. Yasmine Bleeth argument. Maybe there isn’t really a wrong answer.

        However, i would point out to rayguy that Zaire’s “leadership, charisma, and clutch capability” were done at the high school level. When you are the elite athlete in your town/class/state, etc. it’s fairly easy to be portray those skills. When you’re the 18 year old kid in a locker room full of grown men, are you still that same player? To be determined, right?

      • irishpuma - Mar 14, 2013 at 1:02 AM

        I agree completely with nude and idratherbe….12-1 as a red shirt frosh……we beat SC….nuff said…..Idratherbe can we get a more accurate hottie example?….your pam anderson vs. bleeth circa 1989 example is not cutting it. How about a Kate Upton vs. Megan Fox…..just sayin your better than that…. stay current brother…lol

      • idratherbeinsouthbend - Mar 14, 2013 at 1:23 AM

        “stay current” ….duly noted

        Can i take Eva Mendes vs. Megan Fox though?

      • 4horsemenrideagain - Mar 14, 2013 at 10:17 AM

        I will go further and predict that EG’s leadership, production and confidence show tremendous improvement from last year. Some of his biggest obstacles seemed to be pre-snap recognition, poise and touch on the ball. With another 8 months of film study, footwork and throwing mechanics, the game will slow down, the reads will become more second nature and he won’t have to rely on his raw talent to bail him out. Being in the right alignment/right play call and adding to that improved skill set, the confidence will follow and he’ll be a much more effective leader.

      • irishpuma - Mar 17, 2013 at 1:05 AM

        for sure who are you leaving me with eva or megan?

  15. cpfirish - Mar 13, 2013 at 11:18 PM

    I think people are a little hard on Golson! He took us to the NAtional title as a freshman! He had so much talent it’s sick! I have been Golson fan from day one. This season I don’t think may defenses will be able to stop him.

    I am a little worried about him getting injured. He needs to put on a few more pounds. Golson is the man for the next three years hands down! He is only going to get better!
    Go Irish!

    • nudeman - Mar 13, 2013 at 11:35 PM

      Kelly said in a recent intvw that EG was down to – get this – 178 at the end of the yr. 178!!!

      Also said he’s back up to 187 now. But this is a slightly built kid. And probably that’s the #1 reason Gunner should have stuck around.

      • irishpuma - Mar 14, 2013 at 1:06 AM

        True that but he probably started last season around 185. With his build I imagine he will always be light by the end of the year due to the grueling nature of the sport. I think he actually needs to stay light and mobile. 10 pounds is not going to protect him from anything and it will slow him down. He is either going to get injured or not. The great ones get lucky and experience fewer injuries.

  16. fnc111 - Mar 15, 2013 at 1:37 AM

    Kelly has an awesome asset in Hendrix especially inside the 10 yard line but CBK is too dumb to notice it. Probably too busy figuring out his next NFL job interview. AH will be a stud QB in the MAC in 2014.

    • irishpuma - Mar 17, 2013 at 1:15 AM

      Are you sh*****g me what is the obsession with Hendrix? I don’t get it. Saw him up close and personal at Stanford in garbage time against their 2nd and 3rd string and the guy could not complete a pass unless the receiver had a red jersey on. His mobility does not serve him because as soon as he moves he loses his line of vision on the defense. He threw 3 passes directly to Stanford receivers that he did not see underneath the pattern. Arm strength was good so they did not pick them all lol…..but come on. Maybe he will be steady in the operating room but the game is too fast for him and his decisions under pressure were bordering on unfathomable. As for the wildcat I agree it should work but he still does not seem to move the pile.

      I know Hendrix has not received a ton of time but I don’t think it matters. He has hit his ceiling and he may be a serviceable back up but he is an after thought to any serious discussion about national championship caliber teams.

  17. fnc111 - Mar 15, 2013 at 1:54 AM

    Zaire will never take a snap at QB in his ND career. Maybe as a wildcat but not as a traditional QB. He has no accuracy at all but is solid athlete. Gunner leaving will bring ND back to 6-6. Just watch. CBK is just brutal.

    • nudeman - Mar 15, 2013 at 11:28 AM

      Gunner, who’s never taken a snap and is 3rd or 4th string is worth 6 wins?

      If you want to come here and throw Molotov cocktails to stir it up, fine
      How about stuff that makes a little more sense though?

    • steeldominance - Mar 15, 2013 at 2:10 PM

      Fnc, i may just have to agree and feel the same way about Golson. Without a great defense, ND loses 6 games last year and Golson isnt even considered a starter and Kiel is looking like the No
      1 going in to this year. Golson has a low ceiling being as that he isnt a passer. Lets just hope the D is great again this year or we may be struggling to make a bowl game again.

      • ibleedirish - Mar 15, 2013 at 4:48 PM

        He isn’t a passer? Really, wth are you talking about?

  18. irishpuma - Mar 17, 2013 at 1:22 AM

    12 318 187 58.8 2405 7.6 12 6 131.02 26.5 200.4 There are the stats. Almost 60% completion 2400 yards 2 to 1 TD to Pick and a 131 QB rating. AS A RED SHIRT FRESHMAN WITH BK RUNNING THE BALL AND READ OPTION AND CONSERVATIVE PLAY CALLING. To say he is not a passer is ludicrous. He is not Peyton or Brady but his passing is not the issue as much as the play calling. And again he will only get better. He needs a few yards off his deep ball and some major help with the fade but that is it. He has plenty of arm strength throws nice outs, posts, slants etc. And only 6 picks I will take that all day long.

    • irishpuma - Mar 17, 2013 at 1:24 AM

      Oh yeah I forgot he is also what is called a WINNER.

      • steeldominance - Mar 18, 2013 at 10:55 AM

        Yeah a “winner”. But he relied on Tommy Rees to bail him out of games when he couldnt move the ball. Terrelle Pryor had better passing stats than that at OSU. Would you like to call him a passer? Golson had decent stats because teams had to respect ND rushing attack.

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