After a year where everything seemingly went wrong at quarterback, it appears that things are on track to get back to normal. In the span of a calendar year, Notre Dame has had immense turnover at the quarterback position.
Consider this snapshot heading into spring practice last year:
Everett Golson: Three years of eligibility left, berth in BCS title game.
Tommy Rees: Veteran leader defined. Great back-up with starting experience.
Gunner Kiel: Elite prospect about to take redshirt off.
Andrew Hendrix: Former blue-chip recruit. Had chance to be “the guy,” now a situational option.
Malik Zaire: Developmental prospect enrolled a semester early.
That four of the five quarterbacks would find themselves at one point or another off the official Irish roster shows you the fragility of college football and illustrates quickly why college coaches go gray early.
So heading into spring, Notre Dame starts anew with Everett Golson, as Malik Zaire pushes him for playing time. Gone is Andrew Hendrix, a safety net of sorts, putting the Irish in the same type of precarious situation as last season, with depth behind the two of them precious little.
So before Deshone Kizer joins the team this summer, let’s look at the current depth chart heading into spring practice:
QUARTERBACK DEPTH CHART
Everett Golson, Sr.*
Malik Zaire, Soph.*
*Signifies additional year of eligibility available.
Snaps won’t be hard to come by during practice and expect Matt LaFleur to have plenty of time to get to know Golson and Zaire this spring, with head coach Brian Kelly overseeing quarterback development as well. While the spring roster isn’t official yet, former Moeller quarterback Charlie Fiessinger will likely provide walk-on depth as well.
Everett Golson: There is so much for Golson to accomplish this spring. Consider this the short (and far from complete) list:
- Reassert leadership over the offensive.
- Find his voice as one of the team’s leaders.
- Get to know a wide receiving corps that has caught one pass from him.
- Meet his position coach and begin working with new coordinator Mike Denbrock.
- Get back into football mode after working mostly as an individual.
- Keep his academic house in order.
You could write a book about Golson’s getting re-acclimated to life under the Dome. First, he’ll need to address the waiting media circus that’ll surround his return to campus. Nobody has had a chance to speak with Golson on the record about life back at school. (The closest thing was an impromptu interview shot without official permission at the Meyo Invitational track meet where Golson wisely avoided all football topics.) But the sooner this gets out of the way the better for both Golson and the team.
That’s because there’s work to be done. The quarterback has a new offensive coordinator to work with in Mike Denbrock. He’s got a new position coach in Matt LaFleur. He’s got an entirely new depth chart at wide receiver. He’s also got to get back up to speed as a football player, after spending the last year training and working as an individual, far away from the team atmosphere.
Golson also needs to reassert himself as a team leader. The quarterback is always the de facto captain of the offense. We saw that last year with Tommy Rees, who still led the group even if Zack Martin and TJ Jones had the “C” on their jerseys. Golson will have the respect of his peers if he earns it back this spring. He’ll have the trust of his coaches if he puts in the time in the classroom and on the field.
But he’ll need to establish all of that in 15 practices, quite a challenge when you think about it.
Malik Zaire: Credit Brian Kelly for making it very clear that Zaire has every chance to win the starting quarterback job. For a coach that demands effort from every player on the depth chart, making it clear to not just Zaire but his entire roster that he’ll push Golson this spring is key.
Whether we should believe Zaire has a chance to play next season remains to be seen. While we heard great things about Zaire in his first spring on campus, the quarterback had a trying freshman season, knowing that he wasn’t seeing the field for strategic purposes.
“We lost him a little bit, quite honestly,” Kelly said of Zaire’s redshirt season. “When he sees himself as number three and a half, you know, and not getting in and not getting a lot of reps you lose a kid’s concentration a little bit.
“We lost him there for about four or five games. Once we got his attention back, it was clear that he had a pretty good knowledge base of what we wanted to do. So I would tell you that by the end of the year, when we were quizzing him and saying, hey, listen, you have to be ready here, we felt like he had a pretty good knowledge base.”
If Zaire is lost this spring, it’s his fault. There’ll be two scholarship quarterbacks to take plenty of reps, and with the depth chart stacked at receiver and offensive line, there will be nothing but opportunity for the rising sophomore to show he’s ready to compete in fall camp.