That Notre Dame’s quarterback play in 2015 created another “good problem” is a credit to the depth Brian Kelly and his coaching staff have recruited. Because heading into the season, that depth looked, once again, under attack.
That’s what happens when your fifth-year quarterback skips town after spring practice, with Everett Golson deciding to play out his eligibility in Tallahassee. That left Notre Dame with Malik Zaire at the helm and the still-anonymous DeShone Kizer as a backup.
Things don’t seem all that bleak now—not with Kizer’s huge debut season and Zaire healthy and ready for spring. But the last we had seen Kizer he was getting outplayed by walk-on Montgomery VanGorder in the spring game, putting together a performance he described as “rock bottom.” There were worries if Kizer could “fit” an offense that Zaire looked perfect for (he did quite nicely). Or if he was even good enough to hold off freshman Brandon Wimbush, an elite recruit who had a perfect skill-set for Notre Dame’s offense.
Kizer’s impressive 2015 changed the trajectory of the program, turning this spring practice into another session where all eyes will be on the quarterbacks. So let’s take a look at the position as we update the last two recruiting cycles, with the Irish adding two promising pieces to the roster.
Brandon Wimbush (3 of 5, 17 yards; 7 carries, 96 yards, 1 TD)
PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Malik Zaire*, Sr.
DeShone Kizer*, Jr.
Brandon Wimbush, Soph.
*Fifth-year of eligibility available.
It’s another all-out quarterback battle this spring, with a national spotlight focused on Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer. We’ll get back to that part in a second, but the staff’s plans with Brandon Wimbush are quite interesting as well.
Kelly acknowledged the plan to redshirt Wimbush in 2016, getting back the year of eligibility he was forced to use last season after Zaire went down in week two. That forces incoming freshman Ian Book into a unique spot, with the freshman just one hit away from being in the same place Wimbush was last season. Offensive coordinator Mike Sanford thinks Book is ready for that challenge, an important distinction that at least counterbalances the skepticism that might have people viewing a year of the incoming 3-star recruit’s eligibility at a lesser value than Wimbush’s. (Book can earn back that year as a sophomore as well.)
Back to the main event: It’s too early to know how the Irish staff will handle things, other than to say they won’t do it like they did when it was Golson vs. Zaire. Not that there’s a worry that the loser announces his departure before the summer—neither quarterback gains anything leaving South Bend until after the 2016 season.
But there’s no incentive to name a starter any sooner than August. Especially when Notre Dame’s offensive identity will likely go through quite a makeover—tweaked offensive line, finding a replacement for Will Fuller (and C.J. Prosise) and a new set of receivers.
In many ways, a two-quarterback platoon may be a better option with this duo than the one that had so many of us (me included) excited. So whether you think Kizer or Zaire is the better candidate for the job, there’s a lot of time between now and the 2016 season opener. And the only thing that this staff knows for sure is that everybody on the roster needs to get better.