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Freshman Focus: Malik Zaire

Jul 30, 2013, 8:26 PM EST

Malik Zaire

Arriving on campus, it was tough to call Malik Zaire the quarterback of tomorrow. It was more like the day after tomorrow. But with a depth chart that saw the departure of Everett Golson and Gunner Kiel, and will say goodbye to Tommy Rees and potentially Andrew Hendrix after this season, Zaire’s arrival feels almost imminent.

Quickly ascending to the third string without taking a snap, Zaire still did plenty of things impressively during his 15 spring practices, leaving the coaching staff confident that their hand-picked recruit would be a great fit for the Irish offense in due time. But Zaire might have to be more than that, with no margin for error available behind Rees.

Once a guy that looked like he had all the time in the world to develop, Zaire enters camp hoping to fight for the backup job with Hendrix, quite a different place than most expected just a few months ago.

Let’s take a closer look at Malik Zaire.

RECRUITING PEDIGREE

Zaire was an Elite 11 quarterback, nearly winning the MVP of the competition the summer before his senior season. While his junior numbers weren’t overly impressive, Zaire put on a show his final season, as runner-up for Mr. Football in Ohio and the D-III Southwest District Offensive Player of the Year.

Zaire was a consensus four-star prospect and Rivals listed him as the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback in the country, as well as a top 150 player.

With offers from Alabama, Arizona, Nebraska, Ohio State, and Wisconsin, Zaire, while undersized, has the offer list of an elite prospect. He’ll immediately upgrade the athleticism at the position.

EARLY PLAYING TIME OPPORTUNITIES

When Zaire enrolled, it looked like he wouldn’t be ready to see action until at least 2016, when Everett Golson played out his four seasons as a starter. But with Golson’s academic exile, and Kiel’s transfer, Zaire might not even wear what looked like the surest redshirt in the class.

If all goes to this staff’s wishes, Zaire stays off the field this season and retains a year of eligibility. But that all goes out the window if Tommy Rees goes down, as it’s far from certain that Andrew Hendrix can take over this offense and be productive if needed.

With a team expected to have a fierce defense and an offense with skill players capable of surprising, turning over the reins of the offense to an untested freshman isn’t ideal. (In fact, it looks a lot like what happened in 2010, when Rees became the starting QB down the stretch by default.)

But after one crazy offseason, that’s Zaire’s new reality, and he’ll prepare as if he’s going to see the field in September.

PROJECTING THE FUTURE

It’s hard to see what happens with Zaire without knowing what will happen to Golson. There are just too many scenarios. Does a good season by Zaire make Hendrix walk after this season, even with a fifth year? Will it be an open competition when Golson comes back? What if Golson doesn’t come back?

All the different permutations aside, this coaching staff believes in Zaire’s ability, regardless of the players in front of him. Zaire’s jump start in the program gave Brian Kelly the belief that he had a quarterback that was capable of leading this program.

“I think what I loved about Malik is when he came up here last spring, he sat in our quarterback meeting room, and in that meeting room you’ve got some really good quarterbacks.  When he left that meeting, he made it clear to me that this was the place he wanted to be,” Kelly recalled on Signing Day.

“He loved the environment, he loved the coaching, he loved the opportunity to come in and run the offense, and that’s looking at great competition and saying, I don’t care about that, I’m going to come to Notre Dame because it’s the right place for me academically, and it’s the right place for me because I’m going to be the starter here at Notre Dame, and we love those kind of guys that have that attitude.”

It’s too hard to predict what will happen as the quarterback depth chart reshuffles itself. But it’s a fair bet to think that by the time his career at Notre Dame is over, Zaire will have made an impact.

  1. fnc111 - Jul 30, 2013 at 8:39 PM

    A TR man bashing Hendrix. Classic.

    • wisner74 - Jul 30, 2013 at 9:07 PM

      fnc – Were you at the Purdue game last year? I’ve been wondering whether the “nc” stands for North Carolina.

      • notredameirish1980 - Jul 31, 2013 at 7:24 AM

        Add a p and make it nincompoop.

  2. NotreDan - Jul 30, 2013 at 8:50 PM

    I saw all the penn state homo’s in the news today, must be why f#$%ing nut chugger is sitting on Inside The Irish, hitting reload incessantly, so she can be first,

    • shamrocknroll - Jul 31, 2013 at 1:18 PM

      No one likes fnc, but as you can tell from all the thumbs down, the vast majority of us don’t like you spewing homophobic garbage either.

  3. wisner74 - Jul 30, 2013 at 9:04 PM

    I think that the QB position has been screwed up at ND to a greater or lesser degree since CJ Leak screwed Bob Davie.

    • thefightinfloyds - Jul 31, 2013 at 9:44 PM

      Haha I get what your saying but c’mon what did CJ Leak ever do at Florida? The Gators had all the talent in the world and he was never better than average. I doubt his career at ND would have been any different, especially with a less talented Irish team.

  4. 1historian - Jul 30, 2013 at 10:19 PM

    This is Rees’ last season, probably Hendrix too – he could probably get a 5th season but it’s pretty plain that he’ll never be the starter and he wants to go to Med School. If ND has a med school (do they?) and he gets in I really can’t see him spending another season on the sideline with a clipboard.

    So next season we’ve got Golson, Zaire, and the other guy from Ohio whose name I forget. 3 QBs tops. We need another in this class.

    I see Zaire getting significant time this year. I still think we’ll be fine with Rees, but Zaire will see some action.

    • wisner74 - Jul 30, 2013 at 10:37 PM

      I have no idea if Hendrix has the grades to get into med school, but I think your point is well taken. Once again, we’ll be thin at QB next year. I suppose we can thank Kiel for that. I’d like to see Zaire get some playing time this fall so he can compete more effectively with Golson in ’14 for the starting job. But I’d like to see it happen only at the end of games that the Irish have in hand. If he’s playing during meaningful minutes, it does not bode well for ND this year.

      I think ND has some kind of evolving joint relationship with IU that involves the first year or two of med school being offered in South Bend. But I’m not sure, and again, I have no idea if Hendrix could get into that program. Maybe if he gets into that, he could have his fifth year also, but boy would that be hard to handle!

      • 1historian - Jul 31, 2013 at 9:00 AM

        I’ve been assuming (ass-u-me?) that he has the grades to get into Med School, and someone on this site once told me that there is a med school in the S.B. area where he can go.

        My point is this – if he gets into Med School why would he want to spend another season on the sideline? Therefore we should recruit 2 QBs in this class which would give us 4 (hopefully) next year.

        There is always Luke Massa, the 3rd of the 3 QB class of 2010 who was moved to WR a few years ago but he has seen little action there.

  5. irishpuma - Jul 30, 2013 at 10:34 PM

    I hope Zaire sees lots of action. We need him for the next 4 years.

    • wisner74 - Jul 30, 2013 at 10:43 PM

      Puma, you ignorant slut! If Zaire sees a lot of action this year, it can only be bad news for the Irish! He needs to get his feet wet (and no more), so that in the fall of ’14 he can be a legitimate challenge to Golson. Anything more than that means that the Irish are having big problems at QB this year.

      (Dude, I am really trying to get onto your wave-length. How am I doing? Was that you who gave me the thumbs down for the CJ Leak comment? How could anyone disagree with that?)

      • irishpuma - Jul 31, 2013 at 12:39 AM

        thats what people said last year with Golson and we went 12-0 until the apocalypse hit us.

      • nudeman - Jul 31, 2013 at 10:01 AM

        wis,
        Good to see you back. I happen to agree – Zaire playing this year would mean Rees was injured or playing terribly. Best case is Rees plays well, MZ wears a red hat and is ready to go next year.

      • cameronemclaughlin - Jul 31, 2013 at 2:36 PM

        Even if Rees is wonderful this year, my guess is that BK will want to see Malik get some experience on the field.

        While it would be nice if Malik redshirted, Rees played the whole season, and then Malik took over after Golson uses his eligibility, that seamless dream only comes true if Golson returns. That is not a certainty.

        BK probably wants to eliminate the possibility of entering 2014 with a redshirt freshman as the most experienced QB on the team.

  6. yaketyyacc - Jul 30, 2013 at 10:54 PM

    golson falters, rees is good, not great, and Hendrix is a ghost quarterback. malik zaire, like Lou Gerhig, once on the field, will be the “Iron Man” of Notre Dame. Remember, the home run Babe Ruth pointed to in center field, and hit it, as predicted. Well, Lou Gerhig hit two in the same game on his promise. Zaire, the Irish Mob = spectacular results for Notre Dame.

    • wisner74 - Jul 30, 2013 at 11:46 PM

      I’d love for you to be right, but man is that a lot to ask of a true freshman. I really hope that the Irish don’t need that kind of performance out of him in ’13.

      That home run by Ruth was hit in Wrigley Field, so I’m not a big fan of that story.

      • nudeman - Jul 31, 2013 at 10:09 AM

        My dad was at that game. 1932. He always maintained Ruth wasn’t calling his shot.

        Then recently, like in the last 10 years some old footage from a home movie someone took surfaced that showed once and for all he clearly was NOT calling his shot.

        Took the first pitch, a strike. Cub bench was riding him mercilessly. He held up one finger as if to say “that’s only 1, boys”.
        Next pitch, strike 2. Two fingers, “that’s only 2, boys”
        Next pitch, home run.

      • bb90grad - Jul 31, 2013 at 1:15 PM

        Little known fact: Chuck Norris was in the stands that day and punched a kid in the throat for that ball.

        It resides to this day between his “Walker TR” Emmy and “Delta Force” Oscar.

    • 1historian - Jul 31, 2013 at 9:03 AM

      check your spelling – Gehrig

      don’t go back!!

  7. 25kgold - Jul 30, 2013 at 11:33 PM

    Dragon Ball ;0)

  8. wisner74 - Jul 31, 2013 at 12:46 AM

    That’s true, puma, but wasn’t Golson a red-shirt freshman last year who had had a whole year in the program before playing? Maybe I’m wrong about that. In any event, I would love for Zaire to prove to be a super-star, but I do think it’s a lot to ask of a true freshman. (Reading between the lines though, I get the sense that Zaire is quicker on the uptake than Golson was.)

    • irishpuma - Jul 31, 2013 at 1:05 AM

      Right on Wise he was a red shirt freshman but Zaire was an early enrollee so Golson had a semester extra to watch but they both had played in only one Blue Gold game, 1 spring practice. So getting to watch is an advantage but not huge in my opinion. If Zaire did not have the whole spring than I would totally agree.

      Bottom line golson had not one second of live game experience before last year and neither does Zaire. Upside from all accounts Zaire is just as athletic but much smarter and a quicker study. Golson’s knowledge of the play book was not fantastic for 2 years in the program and I would bet Zaire is far ahead of Golson’s pace.

      Not to worry though your boy is going to get his shot. I am just ready to move forward with the future of the program not the past.

      • irishpuma - Jul 31, 2013 at 1:06 AM

        I don’t like reruns either.

      • 1historian - Jul 31, 2013 at 9:10 AM

        From all indications Zaire is just as athletic as Golson and a lot smarter.

        When Golson became the starter last year he had been in the program for 18 months, had been there for 2 spring practices, and had run the opposition offense the entire preceding year while red-shirting. Kelly has been quoted as saying how pleased he is that Zaire is picking up the offense as quickly as he is.

        I feel that if Zaire gets in as starting QB – he will stay there. It’s just a matter of time.

      • nudeman - Jul 31, 2013 at 10:27 AM

        True puma.
        But by the beginning of last year EG had 2 spring practices, 2 summer camps and 1 entire year running the scout team against the ND defense.

        That’s not real game experience but it’s WAY more than what Zaire will have in in 30 days

  9. irishpuma - Jul 31, 2013 at 2:16 AM

    Wise did some research you are not going to like it. Tommy vs. Tulsa.

    Rees asked if he expected to get running plays called in w/in fg range in that game. He said yes but it was nice Kelly had faith in us to throw…

    Then went to Tulsa’s site and and watched the throw over and over again conclusion no way he checked out of a run play. One they were in the shot gun so it is less likely. Then the personnel and then the play. He actually started to drift left and saw the primary receiver was covered and panicked and threw an under thrown jump ball off of one foot into double coverage. It was definitely not the REES who comes to the line checks out of play and throws a direct fade to the mismatch.

    But it was just a freshman mistake and Kelly had no business making that call on 2nd down. Two run plays maybe you score maybe 1st down or worst case a very short fg.

    Night Night.

    • 1historian - Jul 31, 2013 at 9:11 AM

      That was 3 years ago.

      Let it go

    • 1historian - Jul 31, 2013 at 9:32 AM

      At the time – 3 years ago – the KID was all of 19 years old, he had just screwed up on national TV in front of God and everybody, he was righteously and rightfully pissed, a bunch of yahoos were shoving mics in his face and (the clincher) he still had ZITS.

      Fast forward to his behavior last year – beginning when he owned up to screwing up in the spring of 2012 and accepting the consequences – the demotion to 2nd string, missing the trip to Ireland.

      He was always ready when he was called on, being available whenever called on to help Golson, while keeping his disappointment to himself, as he should have done.

      Acting, in other words – like a Notre Dame man.

      Can we let it go? Please?

      • nudeman - Jul 31, 2013 at 10:37 AM

        Slightly disagree. When he threw a terrible pick in the Spring game he said “If that pass was a few inches higher you wouldn’t be asking me these questions”.

        Except … it wasn’t a few inches higher. And there was triple coverage.

        I agree, he’s grown and was a solid citizen helping Golson last year. I hope he plays very well this year. He’s the best option.

  10. 25kgold - Jul 31, 2013 at 3:52 AM

    Just heard that the NCAA will let Eddie Vanderdoes play this year. Davonte Neal…Not so fast!

    • steeldominance - Jul 31, 2013 at 10:03 AM

      I saw that. What a joke! This is sick, but part of me hopes he tears his ACL and MCL and never plays again. Such a turd.

      • notredameirish1980 - Jul 31, 2013 at 10:50 AM

        Don’t wish the kid ill. He is just being an 18 year old. The NCAA is supposedly run by adults who should understand the values of commitment and contracts. The system is a farce.

      • ndadvocate - Jul 31, 2013 at 11:22 AM

        The kid must’ve had good reason to transfer. Does anyone know specifics?

      • 1historian - Jul 31, 2013 at 2:12 PM

        let’s not forget that 2 weeks or so before LOI day this kid was a USC commit and then we stole him away, after a few days of having the vapors because Alabama was after him.

        Come LOI day – he signs and then gets pissed because we put it on the internet because he wanted to make it a great big thing for himself.

        Remember if you will 2 themes BK has promoted constantly – RKG and “we concentrate on the people who are here.” IOW – if you don’t want to be here, fine.

  11. seadomer - Jul 31, 2013 at 12:36 PM

    @steel .. I totally agree, not that tragic but just let karma spin the wheels

    @everybody else … EV is not the RKG for ND, he must really love Christmas and he will be spending all 4 merry Christmases at home. … well ok … give him a Macco bowl when is a Senior. He is going to miss all the venues that ND travels to, stadiums, Ritz-Carltons in Ireland …

    As for QB, as someone mentioned above, having MZ start is actually showing that we are in trouble. However, MZ must be a true DOMER and I am proud to declare that cos he signed and came in knowing Golson and Kiel are infront and still willing to fight. I applaud that. Give him some time to experience the game. Then next year we will start the winner of Golson, Zaire, Kizer …. sounds good to me.

  12. irishdog80 - Jul 31, 2013 at 1:28 PM

    Kelly has shown that he will go with a change of pace QB when necessary or to his advantage. I am betting that Zaire will get plenty of reps during this season… he has to so depth can be built… and the best QB for the situation will be out there when the game is on the line. You can’t coach/teach the skills that a Golson or Zaire have to make plays when there seems to be nothing there. We lose to Pitt if Rees stays in the game. The hope is that the defense dominates, the offensive line ploughs the field and Rees can be the best possible Rees… steady game manager. If the going gets tough, we will likely see Zaire. Rees deserves the shot to be the man due to being a Senior leader, his contribution to the team’s success in 2012 and the fact that Zaire is still an unproven freshman. My gut says Zaire will see the field enough and have enough success to be our best QB by the end of this year.

    • oldestguard - Jul 31, 2013 at 1:59 PM

      Gotta agree with everything you say, dog.

      ….and until Zaire gets there – God bless Tommy Rees

    • gtizzo - Jul 31, 2013 at 4:40 PM

      I’m betting Zaire doesn’t take a snap all season unless it is on the scout.team. Unless Rees and Hendrix go down to season ending injury. It would be a lot to ask a freshman to come in and start if things are already headed south. Kelly doesn’t have to worry about his job since he will most likely get an extension by the end of the season. Zaire will part of the conversation if Golson doesn’t return or is really rusty. Tell Tommy he is guy and let your senior either be a hero for the Irish or leave the scapegoat.

  13. bernhtp - Jul 31, 2013 at 5:06 PM

    Zaire will redshirt unless Rees has performance or injury problems. If there is an injury, Hendrix will start, but Kelly will need to have Zaire ready to come in, which means garbage time, at minimum, as part of preparation.

    Without Rees injury, I still expect Hendrix to get some good reps: garbage time and special situations. I can see Hendrix in for zone read option plays. His run threat can freeze linebackers and a safety to let someone like Chris Brown go deep on the fly route – just an example. As likely #2, Hendrix will need to be ready to come in at any instant and so will need to get some first team practice reps.

    Zaire should get lots of reps, though I still think that they would rather have him redshirt and have two years after Golson, assuming Everett returns.

    • oldestguard - Jul 31, 2013 at 5:56 PM

      …assuming Everett returns….who can really say ?

      I think you have to get Zaire reps this year as he may very well be the man for the next few years.

      I hope Tommy can succeed, but i also hope Zaire is ready. Hendrix…?

    • 1historian - Aug 1, 2013 at 7:19 AM

      If Zaire gets in as starter I don’t think Golson will ever start again.

  14. viktory2013 - Jul 31, 2013 at 8:29 PM

    I do not for a moment believe Kelly has any intention of limping through, and basically writing off this season with the combined ineptitude of Rees/Hendrix. Brian Kelly wins games wherever he coaches, and if it means throwing in a kid, so be it. Zaire was recruited to play, and I believe Kelly has been eyeing and prepping him to hit the ground running after losing Golson. Much like the Crist debacle of a few years ago, it appears he’ll be ready to pull Rees at the first sign of trouble and take his chances with Zaire. And why not? Kelly is not the timid sort and I think he likes his quarterbacks (and his teams) wild and woolly and a bit crazy, which is how you win big. Time to roll the dice

  15. 10of14 - Jul 31, 2013 at 8:32 PM

    He played against my high school twice and while very talented, he has a ways to go to be a big time college player; especially at the QB position. I have seen some very good talent out of my HS conference (Woodson and Rothleisberger to name two) and he is not in that class. I say put him in another position, hope for Golson to return and then we are in business by his 2nd year.

    • irishdog80 - Aug 1, 2013 at 2:12 AM

      So, what you are saying is that Zaire is not as good as a Heisman Trophy Winner and a quarterback of a 2 time Super Bowl champion and both likely NFL Hall of Famers? How about he was good enough to get offers to play QB at ND, Alabama and Ohio State among others and was selected as an Elite 11 QB by the best QB talent judges in the country. Take a look at his junior year highlights on youtube and tell me that he does not look like a slightly bigger/thicker version of Golson and Golson did alright last year.

  16. irishpuma - Aug 3, 2013 at 6:17 PM

    OK time for your dose of reality fellas. A coach and a player on a team need to be positive. Fans on the other hand are allowed the opportunity to be realistic or what you Tommy lovers would call negative as we have no bearing on the game, performance etc. Any argument that says BK trusts him, made him the starter is saying great things about him is totally flawed. What is BK supposed to say he is slow, no arm strength has not progressed much but he is far better than Hendrix who really sucks?????? So lets pray and make the best of it.

    To Fish’s theory which was pretty good just needs a little tweaking. Sure a concrete statue of a QB can succeed but those guys are few and far between. Again comparing Brady, Manning to TR is just f’n stupid. Does ND need a running QB to win? No. But the problem is they would need a QB with arm strength and quick release and instincts if they were going to be effective with a QB in concrete shoes. Can any of you really say TR has any of these traits?

    Next defense’s scheme without having to worry about any scrambling threat which means they don’t have to keep a spy or run zone or keep an eye on lanes. They can blitz with impunity. They also do not have to play a deep zones or keep safety’s back due to his no deep threat. This means more men within 8 yards of scrimmage which means much much harder to run. This is why historically TR led offenses stall and get stuffed.

    What is or has transpired that is going to alleviate any of this? tell me please. This is not negative it is the reality.

    I am glad he has finally decided to train at age 21 that is good. And I hope he does well. to disagree with historian and the rest the blog seems to be way more pro TR over the last week which makes sense because the closer to kickoff the more we are all just rooting for our team.

    And not to worry you positive posters who actually seem to be negative by their abuse of us who do not support Tommy or who do not agree with their sanguine opinions; I will have not problem posting a mea culpa if we go 10 -2 or higher.

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