Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

Mailbag: All about the quarterbacks


For as much as we’re ready to move on from the quarterback talk… we’re not really ready to move on from the quarterback talk.

So let’s tear the band-aid off one last time (who are we kidding?) and talk about the situation behind center for the Irish.


bearcatirishfan: Do you think there is any risk that Zaire will stop trying to improve, or just won’t get pushed enough without Golson’s there to provide extra incentive/competition?

Malik Zaire is not the kind of kid that needs someone to push him. While his success remains to be seen, his intangibles and off-field profile are everything you could ask for. So while the departure of Golson makes Zaire the starter with no real competition, there’s not much risk of Zaire deciding to coast now that the team is his.

If anything, I think the tendency will be the opposite. The last two seasons, I think there was a “check-out” factor, especially when it was clear that this was Golson’s offense and nothing Zaire did during practice could change that. This is Zaire’s team now. And he’ll be ready.


irishkevy: Is there any worry with Malik Zaire getting injured? The worst possible situation is that happening and Wimbush giving up his redshirt. I’ve seen Wimbush in person and as a three year starter he’ll be very legit.

Zaire getting hurt is probably the biggest X-Factor of the season. I don’t think it was ever possible for Zaire to run the ball 20+ times a game, like he did against LSU. But looking back at Mike Sanford’s play calling at Boise State, he ran his quarterback 10 or more times in a game eight times, and Zaire is a far more dangerous runner.

He’s a big kid, likely pushing 230 pounds, so that’ll help. But how Kelly and company decide to protect Zaire now that the back-up QB situation is an unknown will be interesting.

Last thought on Wimbush: Redshirting is obviously preferred. But this football team is too good to hold somebody back with the hopes of having a great season in 2020, especially when you consider how unrealistic it is for a head coach to spend a decade as the man on top of the Notre Dame football program. So if Wimbush is ready (and needed), he’ll play if he’s good enough to be the No. 2 quarterback.


robtrodes: Keith, I keep seeing comments that Zaire isn’t all that good of a passer, and the (admittedly meager) stats available don’t appear to support the position at all. Is this just something that everyone says because everyone else says it, or is there evidence of it?

Good question. Compared to Golson, Zaire isn’t necessarily as accurate. But the position comes mostly from hearing Brian Kelly talk about Zaire needing to improve in the intermediate and short passing game, not from anything we’ve seen.

One thing that I’ve noticed in Zaire’s passing game that I think needs to be fixed: The tendency to slow his arm down when throwing short or underneath. A little like a baseball pitcher, you can’t change the speed of your arm when throwing shorter or softer.

But watching him hit Will Fuller for 70 in the Blue-Gold game, and do a nice-enough job against USC, it’s like a lot of inexperienced quarterbacks. We want them all to be more accurate.


onward2victory: Keith, how do you think Zaire compares to Johnny Manziel (on the field only)? Personally, I see some similarities and in my most optimistic moments believe that Zaire could see that kind of production so long as Kelly lets the reigns loose. Would love get your take.

I’m going to ask you to pump your brakes, Onward. I actually think Zaire’s body-type and mental game makes him a far more durable quarterback, but we’ve seen this kid run for 96 yards against LSU and play a nice second half in a blowout loss to USC.

He’s a little bit behind the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback that made the SEC look like a sandlot.


ajw21: Keith, Did you alter expectations now that Golson is gone. you have said before you believe ND could be in the final four. Do you still feel that way with Zaire the starter and the only qb who plays barring an injury? Also does Wimbush redshirt if Zaire is out for let’s say 2 or more games.

Notre Dame has a chance to win every game on their schedule. They get USC at Notre Dame, which should help. And that doesn’t change just because Everett Golson disappeared, so there’s every reason to believe the Irish are a legit contender for a spot in the CFB Playoffs.

But without Zaire? I have no clue how good Wimbush can be, and Kizer sure didn’t look like a guy who was ready to run a team in his limited Blue-Gold game action. But it’s May.


scoli: With the transfer of Golson, most of the concern seems to be that Zaire is too “inexperienced”. Having watched college football closely for more years than I should admit, I have seen MANY teams be successful, and actually win championships with “inexperienced” QB’s. Some have actually done it with true freshman.Look at Ohio States success last year with 2nd and 3rd string.

My question to you then is, DO you think that Coach Kelly’s system is too complicated? ND has some of the highest admission standards of any D1 school, so you know these kids are not dummies, why does it take so long for them to understand/get a handle on the playbook?

I kept the statement part of your question in because it’s correct. Last year’s national champ? First-year quarterback. Two seasons ago? First-year starting quarterback. It can—and does—happen.

Is Kelly’s system too complicated? I don’t know it, but I also don’t think so.

To your point about the academics/grasp of the playbook, I don’t think that’s necessarily fair. ND is definitely not running the type of offense where a QB looks to the sidelines, gets a play and then runs it regardless. But trying to make a grand statement on speed of proficiency in a system in comparison to other programs with varying degrees of academic difficulty is a tough one to make.

What I will say: Notre Dame’s offense has been too quarterback reliant. The one season that it wasn’t (2012) was the year the Irish rode their defense and running game to an undefeated regular season. That’s not to say it’ll happen every year, but it’s hard not to see what Urban Meyer did last year and wonder how the Irish would look utilizing that style of offense. And I’m guessing Kelly and his staff took note.


irishdog80: What makes Golson believe that he will not have the same competition issues at his next stop?

I don’t think Golson transferred because of competition. Because every football team he plays on for the rest of his life will offer significant competition.


notrebob: Keith,what could you tell us about the Kelly /Golson relationship especially towards the end surely you some authentic info you can share tired of all the speculation

That’s too hard to say for sure. But from talking to people in and around the situation, I do think that part of the issue was their relationship, at least from Golson’s point of view.

On the flip side, I’ve also heard from people inside the program that getting to Golson was difficult. He’s a unique kid, and any issues in the relationship wasn’t for a lack of trying.

In the end, Golson earned his degree. That allows him to transfer. He did. End of story. (For now…)




Post-spring depth chart: Defensive line

North Carolina v Notre Dame

It’s hard to wipe the memory of November’s defensive implosion away. The biggest culprit? A defensive line that was certainly decimated by injury but also filled with untested kids and leftovers.

Without a healthy Jarron Jones and Sheldon Day, the interior of the line had no chance. And by the time the Irish limped to Southern California, the front-four was playing on roller skates. The Trojans took what they want, when they wanted it, in one of the least competitive games between the two programs since the heights of the Pete Carroll era.

But there’s hope that last season’s embarrassments will fortify the troops. And new defensive line coach Keith Gilmore spent the spring getting to know a very well-stocked depth chart. Yet strength in numbers has to prove it’s actually a strength on the field.

There’s hope that last season’s experience—however painful—will be a good one for the depth chart. With Jones on the mend, Day returning for a much-needed senior year and some intriguing young players in the mix, the front four returns with its reinforcements almost entirely intact.

Now we’ll find out if that’s a good thing or a bad one.



DE: Romeo Okwara, Sr. (6-4, 260)
DT: Sheldon Day, Sr. (6-2, 285)
DT: Jarron Jones, Sr.* (6-5, 315)
DE: Isaac Rochell, Jr. (6-3.5, 287)

DE: Andrew Trumbetti, Soph. (6-3.5, 255)
DT: Jerry Tillery, Fr. (6-6.5, 300)
DT: Jay Hayes, Soph. (6-3, 285)
DE: Johnny Williams, Soph.* (6-4, 260)

DE: Grant Blankenship, Soph. (6-4.5, 252)
DT: Jacob Matuska, Jr.* (6-4.5, 295)
DT: Daniel Cage, Soph. (6-.5, 315)
DE: Jon Bonner, Soph.* (6-3, 275)

DT: Micah Dew-Treadway, Fr. (6-4, 295)
DT: Peter Mokwuah, Soph.* (6-3, 317)



Jerry Tillery. The freshman nearly built a legend this spring, needing just a small handful of practices before Brian Kelly was ready to tab him as ready and capable to be an impact player up front.

He’s certainly got more than adequate size, with length and power that should remind you of Stephon Tuitt. That he also possesses a preternatural knowledge of the game and a very good head on his shoulders gives him a chance to do even more—and sooner—than Tuitt did in his three seasons in South Bend.

No pressure, kid.


Jay Hayes. After taking off the redshirt late in the 2014 season only to go down with an injury a game later, Hayes had a tough-luck first year in South Bend. But this spring’s decision to take things easy with Sheldon Day ended up being a very good thing for Hayes’ development, and the New Yorker was dead set on taking advantage.

If you had a starting duo of Hayes and Tillery on your Blue-Gold prop sheet, you’d have likely won a tidy sum. And it’s clear that the early word on Hayes’ “scrappiness” is telling, that he’s willing to mix it up in the trenches is a much needed development, especially with Hayes up to 285 pounds.


Isaac Rochell. One of the success stories from 2014 up front, Rochell was thrown into the starting lineup after Ishaq Williams went down with the Frozen Five and Rochell put together an impressive season.

While the Irish roster still misses a true speed rusher, Rochell is going to wreak havoc in 2015, especially if he’s playing with three other capable linemen. Whether it’s sliding inside or at strongside defensive end, the image I can’t get out of my head was Rochell out-quicking Sheldon Day during offseason shuttle runs.

Men that big shouldn’t move that quickly, and Rochell is my pick up front to take a huge step forward in 2015.



Sheldon Day & Jarron Jones. Until we see both of them on the field again lined up against Texas, it’s a wait-and-see approach. But make no mistake, this duo—when healthy—is among the best defensive tackle tandems in college football.

The mission? Take out the health concerns and contingencies when making the above statement. And find a way to make it through their senior seasons unscathed. If they both do, the NFL will like what they see, and the Irish will have a defensive front that’ll be awfully hard to run against.


Jhonny Williams. It sounded like Williams had all the talent needed to see the field last season, but simply needed to learn the game more. That shouldn’t have been surprising considering the basketball and track athlete’s late introduction to the game, but Williams wasn’t one of the emerging stories of the spring, so this neutral grade is a reflection of him not taking the big step forward many were expecting.


Romeo Okwara. Notre Dame’s returning sack leader is a senior now. He’s a 6-foot-4, 260-pound athlete that maybe should only be a sophomore in college when you consider he’s not only enough to drink yet, but that’s no excuse.

With the Irish in desperate need of a pass rusher, if Okwara is capable of being the man off the edge a missing link on the defensive will be filled.



Jon Bonner. This would’ve been a fast-riser had Bonner not gone down with the spring’s only major injury. While he should be healthy and participating come fall camp after turf-toe surgery, Bonner’s impressive athleticism and quickness is predicated on being healthy, and until we see that, it’s tough to see him ascending a packed depth chart.



Buy. This group is likely a value play. On paper, there’s a ton of talent. Players like Jacob Matuska—290-pounders with athleticism—would’ve been staples up front in the Weis era.

But it’s hard to forget that the last time we saw this group, they were turning Leonard Fournette into Techmo Bowl Bo Jackson in the Music City Bowl. And that was after losing November, a month Kelly had built his reputation around.

This is still very much a “show me” proposition. But there’s a lot to like from a young group that should have its best football in front of it.



KeiVarae Russell’s Return (or the greatest story we’re not talking about)

Jackson Russell

With the spring semester ended and graduation weekend just about on hand, another school year is in the books.

For cornerback KeiVarae Russell, that means the beginning of a long-awaited new chapter—and the conclusion of a bizarre detour. Just as Russell was primed to be Notre Dame’s defensive leader, he went from being the poster boy of what a student-athlete should be at Notre Dame to an exiled football player branded a cheater. He, along with four other teammates, were suspended by the university for Honor Code violations that ended up costing Russell a football season and two semesters at Notre Dame.

Russell has not spoken publicly about his suspension nor his departure, only releasing a statement last October after the university finally ruled on his role in the academic misdeeds.

We can thankfully move past the university’s clumsy-and-overly-clandestine review process. Russell already has—doing everything he said he was going to do when he vowed to spend his time away from school efficiently and come back in June 2015 better than ever.

Russell taken classes at a community college. He’s taken a part-time job. He’s mentored local high school students and athletes from the area. And he’s trained, fully expecting to come back to the Irish as one of the country’s premier cover cornerbacks.

While his social media chronicles have kept us up to speed on his progress (and freaky athleticism), Irish Illustrated’s Pete Sampson spent some time in Seattle, getting a look at Russell, who—rust and all—could very well be the Irish’s best player next season on a roster that’s more talented than any Brian Kelly’s assembled.



Russell wasn’t willing to speak officially on the record (though Sampson revealed during his podcast that Russell’s already done an interview with Sports Illustrated that’ll release sometime in June). But Sampson did speak with a large group of people Russell’s worked with this summer.

And if those comments are any indication, Russell’s going to be a man on fire when he returns to campus in the upcoming weeks.

Here’s a small sampling, from Sampson’s profile:

“He’s like a caged animal,” local trainer Ted Manson told Sampson. “You know when you go to the zoo and see that panther walking back and forth behind the cage? Looks real calm, pacing, but you don’t really want to be in the cage with him.”

And then there’s this from former high school coach at Mariner John Ondriezek.

“He never once wavered. I told him life doesn’t always go in straight lines and yours is a little curved with an obstacle to get over.”

And this evaluation of Russell the football player from former Oregon State safety Anthony Watkins, who has trained with Russell, should have Irish fans excited.

“Kei might be on another level because he has the whole package. He’s very football savvy. A lot of great athletes don’t understand football and that hinders them. With Kei, he’s able to use all his athleticism because he understands the game so well.

“He’s also a freak athlete, fast, can run, jump and he’s so strong. He should be the top corner in the draft next year.”

Sampson’s entire article is worth a read, if only because most of the offseason usually focuses on the departures and storm clouds that annually seem to surround the program. But no roster attrition takes away from the football team that’ll begin taking shape come June—with Russell returning immediately to a leadership role.

Russell’s return has been discussed by Brian Kelly, though only in general terms. And while his re-enrollment is awaiting the university’s rubber stamp, it’s by all reports in process and on track.

So while this month’s story is certainly Everett Golson, next month’s should be Russell. And after paying dearly for a mistake, Russell is more than deserving of a second chance to be the team’s star.

Mailbag: Life after Golson (and an update on comments)

New Mailbox

We’ll get to the mailbag questions, but first a quick housekeeping update. In case you missed it yesterday, I made a change to the previously unfiltered commenting protocols.

For those who have ventured “down below,” It’s been a cesspool. Not because of everybody, but because of a few characters who take great pleasure in ruining nice things. And that’s actually turned some usually thoughtful people into less thoughtful people—bringing out the worst in some of the longest-tenured, enjoyable members of this community as the general standards of pleasantness have gotten long forgotten.

So thanks to some help from WordPress VIP, I’ll be monitoring some I.P. addresses and accounts. It’s the absolute last thing that I want to do with my time, but it’s beyond overdue. Especially as we move into the offseason, where community participation and conversation is much needed and will make this place much more enjoyable.

So if you’ve been a part of our problem, it will be addressed. Apologies for subjectivity, but there’s no Troll Tribunal. So if somebody says something mean or something that you deem “ban worthy,” whatever you do, don’t start calling for the hook or sending me messages. That’s beyond lame. Feel free to police your own words, and know that I’ll be coming around every so often to both participate and make sure things are running smoothly.

To be clear: This isn’t a war on criticism, it’s merely the end of idiocy and blatant trolling. If you want to spray-paint inflammatory comments on a wall at your place of business, go right ahead. I’m just going to take away the paint-cans at mine.

Most people tell me I’m wasting my time trying to make the comments section a better place. Maybe I am. But there’s no reason we can’t have a reasoned conversation—with a variety of viewpoints—without turning things toxic.

So if you’ve got a feud simmering on the board, end it. If you’ve wanted to comment, but been way too annoyed because of certain jerks, come on back and give it another try. If you’ve reveled in being an annoyance or a moron, find somewhere else to do it. Because you’re comments will start going straight to spam.


Using that as a wonderful segue, that’s exactly what Notre Dame is doing. So perhaps we can view this mailbag through that lens—discussing what the Irish will look like without Golson behind center.

(Or not. It’s your mailbag.)

Drop your questions below. Or on Twitter @KeithArnold.

Looking forward to a fresh start.


Swarbrick denies blocking Golson’s transfer options as rumors swirl

Everett Golson

First came the news that Everett Golson was leaving. Now comes the circus, as we take to the rumor mill to speculate where Golson ends up.

The former Notre Dame quarterback will be free to transfer and play immediately once he earns his diploma. But where he ends up is anyone’s guess. And maybe some unexpected parties—including the SEC and Notre Dame’s athletic department—could have a say in that process.

Some of the earliest speculation as to where Golson would land focused on Notre Dame’s Music City Bowl opponent: LSU. With strong personnel and no true favorite at quarterback, many thought Golson would look to Les Miles and former NFL head coach and current Tigers’ offensive coordinator Cam Cameron for a chance.

Some have also thought returning to home to play for South Carolina made sense as well. Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks also seemingly have a hole at quarterback—and interest in their hometown quarterback— that could make Golson a one-year replacement.

But an SEC transfer rule could make that impossible, especially taking into consideration Golson’s academic mishap at Notre Dame that cost him the 2013 season. Bleacher Report’s Barrett Sallee dug into the rulebook and came out with SEC bylaw Graduate Student Exception.

Golson’s semester suspension for academic dishonesty clearly runs afoul with provision (d):

“The student-athlete has not been subject to official university or athletics department disciplinary action at any time during enrollment at any previous collegiate institution (excluding limited discipline applied by a sports team).”

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports, who was the first to get his hands on a comment from Golson, also pointed out the two-year eligibility rule within the SEC bylaws. Bizarrely, it appears that the SEC rules only make way for transfers with multiple seasons of eligibility, not graduate transfer cases, without acquiring a waiver.

“A student-athlete who, upon enrollment at the certifying institution, has less than two years of eligibility remaining, is not eligible for financial aid, practice or competition at the member institution. A member institution may request a waiver from the Conference office for a student-athlete transferring from an institution discontinuing a sport, provided that the student-athlete cannot complete his or her eligibility at the institution discontinuing the sport, or for a student-athlete transferring for the purpose of enrolling in an academic program not offered at the institution from which he or she is transferring.”

News Monday evening started circling Florida State as a potential landing spot. 247 Sports’ first reported that the Seminoles were the odds-on favorite to land Golson. The ACC program has a very large hole to fill after Jameis Winston left early to go No. 1 overall to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and only junior Sean Maguire with experience.

That news is similar to what I heard from a source late last week with connections to the Golson family. Per that source, Golson is “90-percent sure on Florida State,” and has been aimed that way since before Notre Dame’s bowl game.

Golson’s next home will depend on not just SEC rules, but also Notre Dame’s approval rights. Per Feldman’s report, Notre Dame has blocked Texas and select Big Ten programs from Golson’s choices.

That was met with some furor on social media, though athletic director Jack Swarbrick was quick to go on the record and say that wasn’t true.

“It’s just not true,” Swarbrick told the Orlando Sentinel ACC spring meetings. “The way this process works is a student identifies schools they would like to consider and we have not denied a single school that Everett Golson identified as one he has an interest in going to.”

ESPN’s Brett McMurphy, who dropped the initial news that Golson was leaving agreed with Swarbrick.

With another ESPN report listing Alabama as another finalist, along with “at least one Pac-12 school,” it looks like Golson won’t be reuniting with Chuck Martin or Bob Diaco. McMurphy writes that Golson is only interested in playing for a Power 5 conference.

With graduation scheduled for this weekend, Golson’s final decision needs to come between now and early June, when most teams report for summer classes and workouts. So expect the news to come fast and furious until a final decision is made.