DeShone Kizer

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Kizer set to start against Nevada

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Brian Kelly has named a starting quarterback. And as most expected, it’ll be DeShone Kizer.

The junior quarterback met with the local media today and confirmed the decision, the only one of the two quarterbacks to be made available. As you’d expect, Kizer was magnanimous in his comments, saying all the right things about the job, his responsibilities as a starter, and his fellow competitor, senior Malik Zaire.

“I had a conversation with Coach Kelly today and he decided that this week I was going to get the first snap for sure, and he kind of congratulated me on fighting through the process and encouraged me to maintain the same mindset and just ensure me that I would be the guy on Saturday,” Kizer said, according to CSN Chicago’s JJ Stankevitz.

“There’s one quarterback now, but two leaders,” Kizer said. “Obviously Malik is an amazing athlete and there’s going to come a time where you’re definitely going to see him on the field, I believe. That hasn’t really been talked about too much. All I know is that he told me to prepare to be the starter on Saturday and that’s what I plan to do.”

For Zaire, the disappointment is likely still fresh. But it’s something Kelly discussed on Tuesday, keeping a back-up quarterback engaged and ready to step into the fray, just one snap away from leading the offense.

“It’s about your attitude and your attitude has to be such that whoever the No. 2 is, whether he’s the No. 2 quarterback or the No. 2 running back, you’re one play away from being in there,” Kelly said. “So you can’t let your teammates down and you can’t let yourself down.”

What comes next for Zaire is uncertain. Irish Illustrated’s Pete Sampson reports that Zaire can graduate after the fall semester, making a graduate transfer something possible for spring semester. But that’s a scenario for down the road—unimportant as the Irish stare down the barrel of a one-loss season and a team that needs to find its footing this weekend.

Winning comes first for Irish quarterback duo

AP
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Brian Kelly‘s starting quarterback remains a mystery. And as of Wednesday night, his two candidates for the job were still in the dark.

Available to the local media post-practice, neither DeShone Kizer or Malik Zaire knew who would take the first snap against Texas. But after much has been made about the general unhappiness about the time share, both veterans understood that there was something larger at stake than starting the game in the lineup or sharing the workload.

“I just want win games,” Kizer said, according to CSN Chicago’s JJ Stankevitz. “I obviously would love to be the guy to lead Notre Dame out there and play every snap, just like any competitor out there. If we can go out there and play five overtimes, I want every last snap of those overtimes. But this is a situation where you gotta trust in the man up top, and that’s the guy that has a corner office here in coach Kelly.”

Zaire also wanted nothing to do with the questions about his mindset—spinning away from a question or two and merely ready to move forward, playing in his first football game since breaking his ankle in week two of the 2015 season.

Notre Dame’s offensive game plan remains a mystery. It also serves as one of their strongest strategic advantages.

The Irish can beat you on the ground, with Tarean Folston, Josh Adams and Dexter Williams running behind one of the best offensive lines in college football. They can beat you by air, with Texas’ secondary probably still feeling scorched after Zaire’s impressive afternoon last September.

And as Kelly, Mike Denbrock and Mike Sanford decide how best to play their cards, Kelly talked about the benefits of having multiple options, especially if Texas decides to be the aggressor on Sunday night.

“What we’re mostly focusing on is what Texas wants to do and then how we counter with our two quarterbacks and how we think effectively they can run our offense,” Kelly explained. “What we’re trying to counter is the game within the game, and that is how Texas is trying to defend what we’re doing offensively.

“So that’s really the biggest issue that I have moving forward. We’re going to run the quarterbacks how we see the defense is playing us.”

The Irish have beaten Texas before, riding the arm of Zaire. They’ve worn down opponents with their ground game, something that’ll be an objective as the Longhorns do their best to replace a front seven that struggled to hold up against the run.

So even if that means Kizer and Zaire look more like centermen crossing the rink on a line change, getting out of Austin with a win is the common objective.

“The goal for us is to do what it takes to win the game, and for me it’s whatever it takes to get that opportunity and get the most out of those guys around me,” Zaire said. “At the end of the day it’s all about who wins the game up on the scoreboard, and that’s what we look to do.”

No separation yet for Irish quarterbacks

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Brian Kelly has DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire ready to play for him. And the longer this competition plays out, the more likely it appears that both quarterbacks will help this offense.

How that shakes out remains to be seen. How this staff handles game-planning, let alone managing two distinctly different quarterbacks, is still a mystery. But with less than three weeks to go before the Irish travel to Austin to take on Texas, Kelly sounds like a coach still expecting to make it work.

If you’re looking at and asking who are the top playmakers on offense, and if you have five of them, two of the five are the quarterbacks,” Kelly said on Saturday after an open practice.  “You saw that again today.”

But as the pads go on and the competition ramps up, the two different paths this offense can go down begin to emerge. And while that makes the identity of this offense a still-developing process, Kelly did differentiate between the two quarterbacks when discussing how the team looked during a live scrimmage session.

One guy is making great checks at the line of scrimmage, getting us in protections, getting great one-on-one matchups,” Kelly said, in reference to Kizer. “And the other guy is making somebody miss in the backfield and throwing to a wide open back.

“They both have different ways of moving the offense down the field and that continues to show itself as we move through camp. Both of them have a way to move the offense, they just move it a little bit differently.”

You can slice and dice that last comment any way you want to, but if we know Kelly at all after six seasons, the attributes he assigned to Kizer are traits he values quite highly.

Then again, after watching the Irish offense be more explosive in 2015 than any other season, finding a play-maker who can bail out an Irish offense relying on youth at receiver isn’t the worst thing in the world. Zaire’s escape and touchdown pass to Tony Jones—a play that sounds mighty similar to the scramble and connection he had with Justin Brent in the spring game—is a skill that Kelly craves, too.

With camp soon to transition from installation and identity-building to focusing on a gameplan to beat Texas, if any one thing is starting to stand out, it’s that the staff is beginning to prepare specific menus for each quarterback.

“I think more than anything else is we’re trying to make sure that we run the offense through their skills,” Kelly explained. “Every day is not what did you see to decide about the Malik or what did you see that is going to help you decide on Kizer. We already know about both of them.

“It’s really about focusing the offensive play calls and the offense that we want to run through Malik. And focusing the play calls in the offense that we want to run through Kizer.”

So with Kelly, Mike Denbrock and Mike Sanford—three proverbial cooks in the kitchen–the question isn’t if Zaire or Kizer are capable of beating Texas. We’ve seen Zaire do it, slicing and dicing his way through the Texas defense. And Kizer won more games than anybody expected.

So as the team continues to evolve, a head coach once dead-set again juggling two quarterbacks sounds more and more comfortable with the idea.

Counting Down the Irish: 2016’s Top Five

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We’ve reached the top of the roster on Brian Kelly’s seventh team. And while it is no match for last season’s star-studded top five, this group has a chance to put together a tremendous season—and all but one of them have a season (or more) of eligibility remaining.

That’s the rub with this football team. As Brian Kelly explained in his introductory remarks heading into training camp, there’s no shortage of talent on this roster, but they’ll need to grow up quickly and prove that they can do the ordinary things right.

While the top of the heap had some consensus, there were still some wildly different evaluations out there. And you can validate any opinion at this point, just because the top three players on this list all have just one year of starting experience.

Young teams can certainly win football games. But they’ll need to come together quickly. As we move beyond prognosticating, it’ll be interesting to see if this roster—and the panel’s selections— plays to our expectation or if they can exceed it.

 

2016 Irish Top 25 Rankings
25. Equanimeous St. Brown (WR, Soph.)
24. Durham Smythe (TE, Sr.
23. Justin Yoon, (K, Soph.)
22. Tyler Newsome (P, Jr.)
21. Daniel Cage (DT, Jr.)
20. Sam Mustipher (C, Jr.)
19. Jerry Tillery (DT, Soph.)
18. Max Redfield (S, Sr.)
17. CJ Sanders (WR, Soph.)
16. Drue Tranquill (S, Jr.)
15. James Onwualu (OLB, Sr.)

14. Alex Bars (RT, Jr.)
13. Alizé Jones (TE, Soph.)
12. Shaun Crawford (DB, Soph.)
11. Nyles Morgan (LB, Jr.)
10. Tarean Folston (RB, Sr.)
9. Jarron Jones (DT, GS)
8. Josh Adams (RB, Soph.)
7. Cole Luke (CB, Sr.)
6. Malik Zaire (QB, Sr.)

 

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 31: Torii Hunter Jr. #16 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass and is tackled by Avery Williams #2 of the Temple Owls on October 31, 2015 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated the Temple Owls 24-20. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

5. Torii Hunter Jr. (WR, Senior): The only regular returning to the receiving corps, Hunter will be the primary target for Notre Dame’s still-to-be-determined starting quarterback. A smooth athlete with better than advertised speed, Hunter has taken his time developing in the program, with injuries setting him back in two different seasons.

With his baseball career on hold for the time being, Hunter is all about football. And he’ll have every chance to be force-fed the ball this season, with the receiving corps as top heavy as we’ve seen it, especially when it comes to experience.

Hunter isn’t Michael Floyd, Will Fuller or Golden Tate. But he could be senior-season TJ Jones, a versatile playmaker who can bounce around the field and do a little bit of everything. That seems to be the bar we’ve set with Hunter in the top five, mostly based on reputation and a strong spring.

Highest Rank: 3rd. Lowest Rank: 10th.

 

Keenan Reynolds, Isaac Rochell

4. Isaac Rochell (DE, Senior): One of the ironmen of the roster, Rochell led the defensive line in snaps and put together a rock-solid junior season at strong side defensive end. Entering his final year of eligibility, Rochell is healthy and capable of playing just about anywhere, a candidate to move both inside and out.

Rochell has ascended into Sheldon Day’s leadership role, a likely captain as the 2016 squad evolves. If he’s able to turn in Day’s performance wreaking havoc behind the line of scrimmage, the Irish have an intriguing NFL prospect who could have a long football career ahead of him.

A stout run defender who will be difficult to move off the point of attack, Rochell needs to improve as a pass rusher, finding a way to impact the game by getting to the quarterback. If he can add that element to his repertoire, he could have a special season.

Highest Rank: 2nd. Lowest Rank: 11th.

 

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Quenton Nelson #56 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after a 10-yard touchdown reception by Corey Robinson against the USC Trojans in the fourth quarter of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

3. Quenton Nelson (LG, Junior): In just 11 starters, Quenton Nelson has established himself as one of college football’s top guards. A big, strong and long player, Nelson’s got the physical gifts of a tackle and the nasty demeanor of a lineman built for the inside of the trenches.

One of the most powerful run blockers in the country, Nelson will only improve in all facets of the game as he enters his second season in the starting lineup. Lined up next to Mike McGlinchey, the duo might be one of the most physically imposing in all of college football—650 pounds of granite that should protect quarterbacks and power the ground game.

Highest Rank: 2nd. Lowest Rank: 7th.

 

DeShoneKizer

2. DeShone Kizer (QB, Junior): It’s staggering to think that at this time last season, not a single vote was cast for DeShone Kizer. (A sampling of those that received votes: Incoming transfer Avery Sebastian, Nick Watkins, true freshman Justin Yoon and redshirt Jay Hayes.)

What a difference a year makes. Kizer very nearly topped our list, the smallest variance of any player in the eyes of the panel.

Kizer does everything a quarterback should do in a Brian Kelly offense—and has a few other traits that feel like the cherry on top. With the size of a prototype NFL player and the skills of a zone-read runner, Kizer’s offseason was likely spent preparing for a camp competition with Malik Zaire that both players think they’ll win.

At his best, Kizer has the upside of an NFL starter. And with another season under his belt, there’s only room for improvement after seeing and doing things for the very first time in 2015. Two of Notre Dame’s best players are quarterbacks. It’s a tough problem to have, but one every coach would kill for.

Highest Rank: 1st. Lowest Rank: 4th.

 

McGlinchey

1. Mike McGlinchey (LT, Senior): After producing two-straight first round left tackles, the Irish have a third in McGlinchey. While he’s only a second-year starter, McGlinchey came into the preseason viewed as one of college football’s premier talents, understandable when you dig deeper into his performance last season—not to mention just look at him.

McGlinchey was born to be an offensive tackle, and physically he might be the most gifted we’ve seen in recent years. While he’ll be seeing and doing things for the first time, he’s talented enough to use his extraordinary physical gifts to dominate— long arms, quick feet, and great strength, all in a body that could dominate on the basketball court.

Passed the leadership baton from Martin to Martin, McGlinchey is a near lock to be a team captain. And he has a fifth year of eligibility remaining.

Highest Rank: 1st. Lowest Rank: 13th.

 

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Our 2016 Irish Top 25 panel:
Keith Arnold, Inside the Irish
Bryan Driskell, Blue & Gold
Matt Freeman, Irish Sports Daily
Nick Ironside, Irish 247
Tyler James, South Bend Tribune
Eric Murtaugh, 18 Stripes
Pete Sampson, Irish Illustrated
Jude Seymour, Her Loyal Sons
JJ Stankevitz, CSN Chicago
John VannieNDNation
Joshua Vowles, One Foot Down
John Walters, Newsweek 

Kelly expects to play two quarterbacks in 2016

AP
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With Notre Dame opening up camp next week, Brian Kelly seems to be opening up to the idea of playing two quarterbacks.

As DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire get set to begin their battle, Notre Dame’s head coach talked about that high-profile job with Jim Rome, giving us an interesting look at his mindset on the eve of the season, while also adding a new tweak to the old adage of having two quarterbacks.

Namely, you need two.

“I think you need two,” Kelly told Rome. “You’re going to need two quarterbacks in college football. You need two and we’ve got two very good ones. My expectation is that we need both of them to play.”

That attitude makes sense when you look back at Kelly’s time in South Bend. From the moment Dayne Crist’s bell was rung against Michigan in Kelly’s first season, Notre Dame’s offense has seemingly been pushed into Plan B each and every season—giving way to Nate Montana, Tommy Rees, Andrew Hendrix and eventually Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer.

The Irish certainly wouldn’t have won 10 games in 2015 if Kizer wasn’t capable of thriving when he replaced Zaire against Virginia. And Kelly knows that experience has turned the tables on the depth chart as they enter 2016.

“Both of them are capable of winning, we know that. Malik showed that in the way he played against Texas and he’s been in the program for four years,” Kelly said. “But Kizer obviously has got more experience because of the number of games that he played and big games last year.”

While the plan to continue the competition into fall camp hasn’t changed, Kelly seems to have softened on his stance that only one quarterback will be happy. And while you certainly can’t take this as a declaration that a platoon is coming, Kelly acknowledged the need to have both guys ready and involved. And the best way to do that is by getting them on the field.

“It would be great that whoever took the job over played so well that he’s going to be a Heisman contender,” Kelly said. “If that doesn’t happen, I can see both of them eventually playing.”

The balancing act is nothing new for Kelly. He’s managed it in South Bend, as well as in Cincinnati and his two previous stops. While he’s noted the challenges Ohio State had last season trying to make their offense work while utilizing both Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett, it’s worth pointing out that the Irish coaching staff also spent significant time this offseason huddled with the Buckeyes coaching staff, likely a helpful introduction to the quarterback challenges that even Urban Meyer struggled with.

Kelly knows it won’t be easy finding snaps for both quarterbacks. But he also knows it’s likely better to find your balance when you’re the one dictating terms—not a season-ending injury.

“I think it’s so important to have two quarterbacks, be engaged, keep them involved and as much as they can try to get them in the game if you can,” Kelly said. “It’s a lot more difficult if you can do that. But thats the way it is in college football, with the quarterback being so actively involved in the running game.”

Zaire made it only 19 carries last year when his season ended with a broken ankle. Quarterback runs have ended seasons for Dayne Crist and forced Everett Golson to miss multiple games. But Notre Dame’s offense requires a quarterback who can run the football. And Kelly would rather take his chances playing to that identity than recalibrating how they attack opponents.

“You can’t change your identity week to week, you’ve got to be who you are,” Kelly said. “These two quarterbacks are proven winners. The team knows that.

“I’m not going to have a quarterback controversy. I think we can move forward knowing that both of them are going to play in some fashion.”

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Listen to Kelly’s full interview with Jim Rome from July 29 below.