Tag: Everett Golson

Malik Zaire, John Turner, Jarrett Grace

Five things we learned: Gold 36, Blue 34


On a perfect day in South Bend, Notre Dame capped off spring practice with a perfect Blue-Gold game.

No injuries. Productive play from quarterbacks Everett Golson and Malik Zaire. And with Notre Dame Stadium in the middle of a transformative renovation, the LaBar Practice Fields were transformed to house a national broadcast audience and a few thousand fans and a fun scrimmage that ended when fourth-string quarterback Montgomery VanGorder was sacked on a two-point conversion play as the running clock expired.

The late defensive stop gave the victory to the defense, allowing the Gold to storm from behind and win 36-34. While the scoring system still doesn’t make much sense, let’s go over the five things we learned as Notre Dame closed spring football.


Malik Zaire made the big plays. But just as important—Everett Golson made the ordinary ones. 

One look at the stat sheet points towards Malik Zaire’s big day and the edge going to the young quarterback. The rising junior ended his day 8-of-14 for 137 yards and two touchdowns, including the throw of the afternoon, a beautiful 68-yard touchdown bomb to Will Fuller.

But for as good as Zaire was making big plays, Golson showed that he could make the ordinary ones, key to the fifth-year senior’s development behind center and the overall health of Notre Dame’s offense.

With playcalling skewed towards Golson running the zone-read game, the veteran quarterback played a clean first half, troubled only when the second-team offensive line was tasked with protecting him. In the first half, Golson completed just half of his 12 passes, but he made all the right decisions, while also showing better fundamentals protecting the football as a runner and showing poise in the pocket.

There’s no doubting Zaire’s playmaking ability. As a runner he was a beast to stop and averaged 10 yards a carry (a number that would’ve been higher had Justin Brent not been called for a holding penalty). But his first throw of the game was terribly ill-advised, a jump ball down the middle of the field nearly intercepted by Matthias Farley. His accuracy on short throws was suspect. But it’s hard to argue with the results, an offense that moved the chains with Zaire behind center.

Now the interesting part begins.

With Golson and Zaire back, you can’t blame Brian Kelly for honestly thinking his top-two behind center are better than any in the country, Ohio State included. But that only works if both quarterbacks are back. With Golson looking the part of a quarterback not going anywhere but the starting lineup, the Irish will enter 2015 with two quarterbacks worth of starting.

Football cliches tell us that’s a bad thing. But Notre Dame’s head coach, offensive coordinator and anybody else inside the program will tell you much differently.


Notre Dame’s offensive line will be the strength of the team. And likely will help form the offense’s identity. 

Harry Hiestand has spent the last few years cherry-picking top offensive line talent on the recruiting trail. That showed itself on Saturday, with the first-team offensive line dominant against the Irish defense.

The offensive line looked like the top overall unit on the roster. With bookends like future first-rounder Ronnie Stanley and road-grader Mike McGlinchey, the Irish have two people movers who can hold up on the edge. While Alex Bars and Quenton Nelson still mix and match at left guard, whoever ends up joining Nick Martin and Steve Elmer on the interior will be a part of the best Irish offensive line in recent memory.

With Golson playing with the starting offensive line, the Irish only threw the ball twice on their first two possessions—the running game doing the rest. Whether it was a quarterback keeper or C.J. Prosise, Greg Bryant or Tarean Folston in the backfield, the identity of the Irish offense—at least on this Saturday—looked closer to the unit that went toe-to-toe with LSU, not the pass happy finesse group we saw at times in 2014.

While Mike Sanford praised the second-team and depth behind the starters last week, that group was a work in progress. Hunter Bivin struggled at tackle and Sam Mustipher didn’t have a clean game snapping the football. But Hiestand’s starting group looked the part of an elite unit on Saturday, ready to move into 2015 as one of the nation’s premier units.


CJ Prosise looks natural as a running back. 

We wondered if the C.J. Prosise we heard so much about this spring would show up during the Blue-Gold game. While he didn’t take a touchdown the distance, he was easily Notre Dame’s most dynamic runner.

Prosise led the Irish in rushing, his 12 carries going for 64 yards. Just as important, he looked natural running both inside and out, the only big shot taken in the backfield after Zaire carried out a long fake that left Prosise in a collision with linebacker Greer Martini.

After opening spring as an experimental running back, Prosise closed the 15 practices as a legitimate weapon in the backfield.

As the fourth quarter rolled on, Kelly talked with Dan Hicks and Doug Flutie about just how impressive Prosise has been this spring.

“He’s got electric speed. The thing that showed to me, was the way he put his pads down on the sideline,” Kelly said. “He’ll run over you as well. He not only has that great speed, he has instincts he has toughness, he was a real find for us this spring.”

After the game, Kelly was more succinct. “He’s a guy that you’re gonna fear.”

While the Irish will welcome freshmen backs Dexter Williams and Josh Adams this summer, the most dynamic newcomer at running back was the guy who led the Irish in yards per catch last season as a slot receiver.


Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate looked the part of established safeties, a very good sign for the Irish defense. 

Bunched near the top of the stat sheet for the Irish defense, Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate statistically validated what we’d been hearing all spring. Namely, you’d notice this duo. And not for the wrong reasons.

After seeing both safeties nearly banished to the doghouse late last season, Redfield and Shumate looked rock solid at safety for the defense on Saturday. Both were active, combining for 11 tackles. Redfield even spoiled the game’s biggest trick play, going up and intercepting Everett Golson’s long-bomb aimed at fellow quarterback Malik Zaire.

“Max Redfield continues to show why he’s going to be a big player for us defensively,” Kelly said after the game.

Without any broken coverages or communication breakdowns, the two most important players at one of the roster’s thinnest positions held their own on Saturday. That cements a big spring at a safety position that’s key to the Irish’s success.


Entering his sixth season guiding the program, Notre Dame’s depth is as good as it’s been in the last 20 years. 

Brian Kelly hasn’t spent six years at a football program since he was at Grand Valley State. And after moving quickly from Central Michigan and Cincinnati, Kelly’s extended time in South Bend has allowed him to build a roster deeper than any we’ve seen since Lou Holtz was roaming the sidelines.

With Notre Dame bumping up against the 85-man scholarship limit, we got a rare look at a stacked depth chart in the Blue-Gold game, usually fielding teams patched together by walk-ons and players performing double-duty along the offensive line.

At linebacker, returning MVP Joe Schmidt watched rising sophomore Nyles Morgan display ridiculous athleticism while he also cheered for roommate Jarrett Grace. After having no answers last spring at inside linebacker, the Irish are stacked with them.

Morgan ran with slot receiver Amir Carlisle on a jet sweep and then held his own in coverage on a go-route against running back Greg Bryant. That as a 237-pound linebacker who had just tweaked his ankle and needed it re-taped. Paired with All-American Jaylon Smith and converted wide receiver James Onwualu, there won’t be many better or more athletic starting lineups in America.  Depth will also be a strength. Greer Martini was productive. So was freshman Te’Von Coney, who made four tackles.

Along the defensive line, Jerry Tillery looked the part of a star-in-the-making, while other youngsters like Jay Hayes, Grant Blankenship, Andrew Trumbetti and Jhonny Williams were all over the field. That let Jarron Jones get healthy and Sheldon Day play just a cameo this afternoon, keeping the nucleus of the front four healthy.

At wide receiver, youngsters Corey Holmes and Justin Brent made big plays, forcing their way into the conversation after spending most of last season on the sidelines. We saw the depth (albeit unestablished) at tight end where Nic Weishar made a big catch at the end of the game and Tyler Luatua played big minutes as well.

And after years of seeing walk-on quarterbacks take significant snaps in the Blue-Gold game, Deshone Kizer got plenty of work in the second half, his last before incoming freshman Brandon Wimbush joins the quarterback room.

Expectations are sky high for 2015, just one calendar year after watching a hot start turn into a nightmare November. While Golson’s status still remains up in the air, what’s set in stone is a football team with enough talent to accomplish anything.

Quarterbacks will be live during Blue-Gold game

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

With Notre Dame Stadium under construction, this was already going to be a different kind of Blue-Gold game. But when Brian Kelly announced that quarterbacks Everett Golson and Malik Zaire were going to be live for the first half, he confirmed it.

Amidst a quarterback competition that’s been the story of spring practice, Kelly announced that the competition will continue with live snaps for both quarterbacks during Saturday’s Blue-Gold game. It’s another reason to tune-in and watch the spring game, broadcast live Saturday at 12:30 p.m. EST on NBCSN.

“The quarterbacks will be live in the first half,” Kelly said after Wednesday’s practice. “So Everett and Malik will get a chance to really show themselves and be involved with everything within our game plan and compete.”

After years of having the quarterbacks in red jerseys, seeing teammates go after their own quarterback will be a different experience. While Kelly said the refs will have a “quick whistle,” getting a look at Brian VanGorder’s defense going after Golson and Zaire will be fun to watch.

It’ll also be a necessity for the coaching staff, who continue to evaluate the play of both quarterbacks as an interesting spring comes to a close. Kelly talked about the decision to keep his quarterbacks live, acknowledging that each guy needs the full-go aspects of the game to show his progress under live conditions.

“Both of them are guys that require that element in their game,” Kelly said. “Both of those guys need to be who they are, and that’s who they are. They’re guys that need to move in the pocket, they make plays with their feet and we want to be able to run the ball as well.”

While most have focused on the competition between the quarterbacks, Kelly opened up about how the coaching staff used the spring to advance the skill-sets of each signal caller. So while most thought Golson’s extensive playing experience likely gave him a head start on the starting job for 2015, Kelly talked about the different lenses they’re using to evaluate their quarterbacks.

“For us, it’s been working on what we perceive to be what their weaknesses were, not necessarily game experience, because you can’t duplicate game experience,” Kelly said. “We know what they look like when they win the game.

“For Everett, it’s been pocket presence and taking care of the football, so we’re really evaluating him on those things. For Malik, it’s accuracy and throwing the football and managing the offense. Our evaluation has not been about the game experience, because we’ve seen them both play and we know how they react in the game. So it’s really been about evaluating them on those criteria.”

On Saturday, we’ll get our longest look at the two quarterbacks up for the job. After Zaire outplayed Golson in last year’s spring game—though facing very different defensive play calls and while wearing red jerseys—it’ll be interesting to see how things shake out on Saturday.


Even without guarantee, Kelly expects Golson to return next season

Michigan v Notre Dame

Brian Kelly can’t be sure that Everett Golson will be here in 2015. But after 25 years of coaching college football, Notre Dame’s head coach feels like Golson’s actions are speaking for themselves.

“I couldn’t tell you for certain,” Kelly acknowledged, when asked point-blank if he knew if Golson was going to be back with the team after he earned his diploma.

That’s life with the NCAA’s graduate transfer rule—a rare moment when the student-athlete holds all the cards. But with the Irish entering their final week of spring practice, Kelly leans on what he’s seeing from his veteran quarterback that makes him believe he’ll finish his college career in South Bend.

“He’s had his best spring since he’s been here,” Kelly said. “He’s fully engaged in everything that he’s doing. It’s the best that I’ve seen him do the things that we’ve asked him to do since he’s been here.”

Golson hasn’t made any public comment about his future. That’s by design and something Kelly has supported, keeping him away from media availability this spring so he can focus on a full load of football and academics.

And it’s that effort, both on and off the field, that makes Kelly believe he’ll have Golson in the program—and out front—come the all important summer months.

“It’s like anything else, if you’re half in, you kind of see it,” Kelly continued. “Listen, I’m not shocked by anything that 18-to-21-year-olds do, I’ve been in this business too long. But there’s no indication that anything he’s done would mean he’s just doing this as a way to go somewhere else. If I sensed it at all, I’d have pulled the plug on it myself, because we’re wasting our time.”

That may be the most important part of all of this. Kelly as the head of Notre Dame’s football program wouldn’t have allowed Golson to continue to take reps and take snaps from Malik Zaire if he didn’t believe Golson was going to stick around and work to be a part of this team.

This isn’t the first time Kelly has said this. He said it in the run-up to the Music City Bowl, where he made it clear that Zaire was going to start and Golson was going to have to earn back playing time.

Some thought that was merely coachspeak. But this is a head coach who let Aaron Lynch walk away from this team—never begging him to come back. Kelly did the same thing when Gunner Kiel wanted out, letting the five-star quarterback transfer with little hesitation.

Kelly never blinked when Golson was ripped from the program before the 2013 season. Nor did he once complain about losing his star cornerback and best wide receiver, along with his starting defensive end and two other defensive contributors in the days leading up to last season.

That’s life in college football. So with little guarantee of anything, Kelly moves forward with the hopes that Golson is part of this program, knowing what’s at stake for all involved.

“I think I have a pretty good sense of people and situations,” Kelly said. “I’m not going to jeopardize our program, our staff, our livelihood, what we do, if someone’s not bought in and 100 percent committed.”


Irish QB battle will (understandably) head into fall camp

Michigan v Notre Dame

Wednesday, Brian Kelly confirmed what just about every Notre Dame football fan already knew: The quarterback battle between Everett Golson and Malik Zaire will head into fall camp.

“They’ll continue to compete into August. There’s no question,” Kelly said.

What that means remains to be seen.

For Zaire, it’s the status quo. After all, Kelly said the same thing last spring, telling anybody who’d listen that Zaire was giving Golson a true run for his money. (It didn’t result in the shackles being taken off Zaire until late-November.)

For Golson, it’s not quite as simple. With his transfer options wide open after he earns his diploma in May, Golson can play next season for anybody. Kelly’s announcement makes any decision to depart a very complicated gamble.

There’s no team where Golson will go that has better weapons. There’s no offense he knows better. And there’s no group of players where he’ll feel more comfortable.

Ultimately, Kelly and the offensive staff understand that. And they also know that after living and dying with Golson in 2014, they’ll need both of their quarterbacks to push each other, making the turnovers and mistakes that plagued Golson’s game dealbreakers.

“I think that’s healthy competition. They’re both trying to get better and working to get better in the areas we’ve asked them to focus on,” Kelly said on Wednesday. “I can’t see where that’s not healthy and it will continue to work to get us better as a football team because they’re getting better every day.”

But just because the winner won’t be named until fall camp, doesn’t mean the competition won’t continue. On Saturday, the Irish will go live—quarterbacks included. It’s the type of scenario that wasn’t possible in years’ past, when the Irish usually had a starting quarterback but an unproven backup.

That’s not the case heading into 2015. If all goes according to plan, the Irish will enter camp with two starting-caliber quarterbacks.

And if that happens, Kelly can consider this spring a success, even without naming his starter.

Sanford trying to quantify quarterback competition

Brian Kelly

With all eyes on the quarterback battle between Everett Golson and Malik Zaire, new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford has a lot on his plate this spring. Still a newcomer to South Bend, Sanford’s not only got to get to know the quarterbacks in his meeting room, but also help decide who will be in charge of piloting the Irish offense.

Joining Brian Kelly and Mike Denbrock in a still-evolving org chart atop the offense, Sanford is tasked with coaching up the quarterbacks this spring, all while evaluating their performances.

And just months after the 2014 season and offensive efficiency nosedived as Golson’s turnovers sky-rocketed, the Irish coaching staff is going to great efforts to quantify every rep taking this spring, all part of an objective evaluation of the most important position on the roster.

Asked about that process on Wednesday, Sanford shed a little light on not just how the spring competition has gone, but how it was being evaluated.

“What we’re doing is quantifying it as much as we can,” Sanford said about the quarterback battle. “Statically, we’re getting graded on every rep and we want those guys to feel like there’s accountability for every rep that they take.

“They’ve done a good job of understanding that and I think we’ve laid out a very clear picture of what we’re trying to get done at the quarterback position but also giving them some feedback about what they’re doing and how they stack up in terms of their quantifiable data that we can give back to them.”

Put simply, every snap matters. And the film is always watching.

Whether it’s seven-on-seven or ones-versus-ones, every rep taken by a quarterback is counted. Not just interceptions and touchdowns, but catches, drops, missed reads, graded, tabulated and evaluated by the coaching staff.

Even situational IQ is scored—with Sanford and the Irish coaches trying to engrain into a position that was doomed by turnovers that every single decision and snap is critically important.

“We’re breaking down all of our concepts and how each quarterback is operating within each concept,” Sanford explained. “And then beyond that, I’m basically quantifying, ‘Did you do your job on this play, yes or no?’ ‘Did you get the job done?’ And if they are, it’s a plus. If they don’t, it’s a minus. And then we give them notes about exactly what corrections could be made.”


Sanford’s utilized this process before, both last season at Boise State and before that at Stanford. It helped add some objectivity to a four-headed running back battle with the Cardinal, and put an added value on practice reps, which led to carries on Saturdays.

As Kelly stated before offseason workouts commenced, the theme of spring practice would be competition. The quarterback battle—while largely staying out of the media this spring—will be one that defines the season.

It’ll also be one of the first position battles that Sanford has presided over. Between Andrew Luck and Kevin Hogan at Stanford and fifth-year quarterback Grant Hedrick at Boise State, Sanford thinks the competition has energized the quarterback position group.


“I’ve always been of the accord that I absolutely love when there’s competition. I think competition always is going to breed the betterment of each individual player in that position room,” Sanford said.

While talking up the progress of redshirt freshman DeShone Kizer, Sanford mostly praised his two top contenders. For those wondering if Golson has one foot out the door, Sanford praised the fifth-year senior’s “buy in.” He also raved about Zaire’s athleticism, good enough to play multiple positions.

But after watching the Irish offense fall apart as Golson struggled to keep mistakes from compounding, the analytical approach this spring will take away any mystery. That should go a long way towards clarifying the situation for both players, and ultimately a team and offensive unit that’s looking to the quarterback position to lead the team.

“I think [the evaluation process] helps them in their progression but it also helps them understand that we’re not going to make an arbitrary decision about who’s the starter,” Sanford said. “We’re going to work through the process of deciding that.”


(All quotes courtesy of JJ Stankevitz at CSN Chicago.)