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Spring Outlook: Notre Dame’s drama-free quarterback situation

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For the first offseason in what seems like forever, Notre Dame has no semblance of a quarterback controversy. That can always change via some combination of starter Ian Book regressing and sophomore Phil Jurkovec progressing, but it would necessitate both.

It really has not been forever, let it be noted. Just two years ago, Brandon Wimbush was clearly the Irish starter after DeShone Kizer declared for the NFL. Then again, the phrase used above was “quarterback controversy,” and one certainly, yet unnecessarily, arose around Kizer’s draft readiness or lack thereof. Beyond that idiocy and then moving past all things pertaining to Kizer and Malik Zaire, Notre Dame had an unquestioned starter heading into the 2014 season with Everett Golson returning from an academic suspension.

Perhaps the lesson here is, in the most high-profile position in the country’s most-popular sport at one of its most-famous programs, drama generally arises. It remains unlikely such enters the discussion before Labor Day, but never say never.

Spring roster:
— Senior Ian Book
— Sophomore Phil Jurkovec

Summer arrivals:
— Incoming freshmen Brendon Clark

Depth Chart Possibilities:
In his first season as a starter, Book logged a higher completion rate than any other Irish quarterback in history. He is 9-1 as a starter, fresh off leading the way to the College Football Playoff. Book will be Notre Dame’s starting quarterback barring injury or many steps backward.

Rather than fret over the splits of snaps this spring, the focus should be on Book’s continued development, particularly as it pertains to the deep ball. He could not throw it in 2018. Whether that be because of strength, timing or form, it was inarguably the case. Improving that will be vital to Book’s overall development, the potency of offensive coordinator Chip Long’s system and the usefulness of speedy sophomores Braden Lenzy and Lawrence Keys, not to mention junior Michael Young and senior Chase Claypool.

Jurkovec, meanwhile, will need to use this spring to get comfortable in Long’s offense. Last season, Jurkovec led the scout team. He certainly learned the playbook, but did not become well-versed in it via repetition. A spring with just two scholarship quarterbacks is an excellent opportunity to change that. It may be, in fact, the best reasoning behind spring practice as a whole.

The subsequent muscle memory may come in the form of a lower release point than traditionally preferred, but if it is accurate and has some zip, how much does that really matter? Jurkovec’s three-quarters release point is by no means a submariner’s.

The obvious, oft-asked, head-against-the-wall reader question …
“Given the success of Trevor Lawrence as a freshman and the fact that Phil Jurkovec sat out his freshman year, was it just that Lawrence was a generational quarterback or is there something in Clemson’s system that enabled him to take over the starting role? The old nature versus nurture question. If it is nurture, what can be done at Notre Dame to improve and maintain the ascent of quarterbacks?” — glowplugv

Lawrence is the outlier, not Jurkovec. Tua Tagovailoa is the outlier, not Jurkovec. And, to get ahead of this, Wisconsin’s Graham Mertz may end up the beneficiary of a system and an opportunity in the light of Alex Hornibrook’s decision to transfer Wednesday, not the same level of outlier as the other two but possibly another future comparison point and criticism of Jurkovec’s career.

Within weeks of his first career start, Lawrence was projected as the first overall NFL draft pick in … 2021. Think about that. Comparing anyone else to him is an exercise in confirmation bias.

Furthermore, Lawrence is surrounded by the likes of Justyn Ross, Tee Higgins and Travis Etienne. The Tigers offense did not just make the Irish defense look bad; they did it to everyone in 2018, including Alabama. Having skill position players of that caliber at his disposal only enhances Lawrence’s natural abilities.

If Jurkovec does not start until his junior season, that is not an indictment of him. If anything, it speaks to Book’s development. The success or failure of Jurkovec’s career will come when he starts, not when he doesn’t. Rash wants to impugn him for that latter time is a failure to recognize not all 18-year-olds are the same, to understand the logic to signing a quarterback in each recruiting class, and to appreciate Book for rising — or even, ascending, to use glowplugv’s verbiage — from expected career backup to multi-year starter at Notre Dame.

Book has his flaws, that lack of a deep ball chief among them, but at this point Jurkovec does, too. His should largely improve with time, and Book’s 12-1 record as a starter provides that luxury.

2018 statistically speaking:
Book: 2,628 passing yards, 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions with a 68.15 completion percentage.
Brandon Wimbush: 719 yards, four touchdowns and six interceptions with a 52.94 completion percentage.
Jurkovec: Two appearances, two incompletions.

2018 departures:
Brandon Wimbush’s transfer to Central Florida could end up a win-win-win. It was a win for the Irish to not have to try to squeeze Wimbush onto this roster, be it as quarterback depth or in a skill position role. He handled his 2018 demotion so well, such a roster spot would have been deserved, but it would have inevitably led to some 2019 frustration on all sides.

It is a win for Wimbush to have a chance to start at a program rapidly getting more and more notice. He maintains NFL aspirations, and as long as a player has college eligibility remaining, why not keep those hopes alive? Leading Central Florida to another double-digit win season will be a good look, no matter Wimbush’s completion percentage.

And it is a win for the Knights because now they have a better chance of continuing this impressive run. Three-year starter McKenzie Milton will almost-assuredly miss 2019 due to the horrific knee injury he suffered in November. Darriel Mack might be serviceable, but he has not gone 13-3 as Notre Dame’s starter.

Notre Dame gets the letter: Brendon Clark

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