With the start of Notre Dame preseason camp approaching fast, we’re looking at what to expect from each unit that’ll take the field Sept. 5 under the lights against Texas. We'll kick things off today with the quarterbacks.
1. Malik Zaire (junior)
2. DeShone Kizer (sophomore)
3. Brandon Wimbush (freshman)
There’s no debate who’s topping this group heading into the season with Everett Golson plying his craft in Tallahassee. Zaire earned his first start in last year’s Music City Bowl and performed well, completing 12 of 15 passes for 96 yards with a touchdown and running 22 times for 96 yards with two scores. But most importantly, Zaire didn’t turn the ball over against LSU, allowing Notre Dame to come away with a three-point win over a top-25 SEC opponent.
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Biggest question: Can Zaire be more consistent as a passer?
We’ve only seen Zaire in limited doses, and the Music City Bowl was his first — and only — opportunity to take meaningful snaps. And even then, Golson ran the final few plays before Kyle Brindza hit a walk-off field goal.
But even after a small sample size 2014 season, whether Zaire can consistently throw the ball is the biggest question he’ll have to answer this fall. He was efficient with play-action against LSU and that likely will be his throwing bread-and-butter, but for Notre Dame’s offense to reach its ceiling, he’ll have to clean up his throwing mechanics and footwork to truly become a game-breaking dual-threat quarterback.
“If he’s a well-trained pocket passer from a mental standpoint and from a fundamental and physical standpoint, the sky’s the limit with his abilities as a runner and what he can do outside the pocket,” offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford said during spring practice. “He’s very coachable and very, very zealous in wanting to learn and wanting to correct everything.”
If Zaire has to miss time, Notre Dame will turn to either a redshirt freshman with no experience (Kizer) or a true freshman with no experience (Wimbush). Given coach Brian Kelly’s track record, it’s fair to expect Wimbush — a former four-star recruit — to redshirt his freshman year as Kizer, Zaire, Gunner Kiel and Golson did before him.
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But it’ll be an interesting dilemma for Kelly & Co. if, in a worst-case scenario, Zaire has to miss extended time. Kelly turned to a true freshman in Tommy Rees back in 2010 when Dayne Crist suffered a season-ending injury, so going to Wimbush wouldn’t be unprecedented, but it’d only happen if coaches didn’t have much trust in Kizer.
There’s little chance either Kizer or Wimbush will push for playing time during the season, barring any significant, unexpected struggles from Zaire.
Golson was responsible for 22 turnovers last year and Tommy Rees 13 in 2013. Another year of having its quarterback give the ball away with any regularity likely will result in another disappointing year for Notre Dame. The good news: Zaire is a read option natural and the Irish offense might not have to take a ton of risks, or worry about as many poor decisions, with the junior at quarterback.
They said it
“Malik has that, a really great spark, and I guess it kind of resonates with everybody on the offense. It really feels good — he’s always excited, he’s always ready to go and he’s a great competitor. So it’s great to have that.” — wide receiver/running back C.J. Prosise