Malik Zaire


Kizer set to start against Nevada


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


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


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.

Kelly expects to play two quarterbacks in 2016


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.”


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

Kizer and Zaire both land on Maxwell watch list


Whoever wins Notre Dame’s starting quarterback job will have lofty expectations. Both DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire landed on the Maxwell Award’s preseason watch list, awarded annually to the country’s best college football player.

The preseason release of watch lists has become a season onto itself. While it’s certainly a nice feather in the cap during early July, simply being a name on a list that seemingly expands each year takes away some luster from the acknowledgement. That being said, the inclusion of two Notre Dame quarterbacks among the 90 candidates nationally to be mentioned is noteworthy.

A total of 37 signal-callers earned mention, including Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and former Notre Dame transfer Gunner Kiel. The Irish will face off against Maxwell Award watch-listers including Stanford’s Christian McCaffery, Miami’s Brad Kaaya, as well as Nevada running back James Butler, USC teammates Ronald Jones and JuJu Smith-Schuster, Duke QB Thomas Sirk and Virginia Tech receiver Isaiah Ford.

Kizer completed 211 of his 335 passing attempts last season, throwing for 2,884 yards and 21 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. He also ran for 520 yards and 10 touchdowns. In two starts before an injury, Zaire completed 26 of 40 throws for four touchdowns and zero interceptions. He also ran for 103 yards on 19 carries.


Senior defensive lineman Isaac Rochell was one of 90 names on the Bednarik Award watch list, awarded annually to the nation’s top defensive player. Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o won the Bednarik Award after the 2012 season.