SOUTH BEND, Ind. — When Everett Golson makes a decision, good or bad, Brian Kelly said he doesn’t have to guess what his quarterback was thinking. That isn’t the case yet with Malik Zaire.
What Kelly and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford want to develop in Zaire is better decision-making and communication skills, which Kelly believes largely will come with experience. While Golson has 23 starts under his belt, Zaire only has about six and a half quarters of in-game reps.
That lack of experience showed up, for example, during Saturday’s scrimmage in which quarterbacks were live.
“There’s some things like today with Malik, sometimes he’ll check into things that we’re not quite certain as to what he was thinking,” Kelly said. “Everett, there’s no doubt about where his mind is relative to what he’s seeing and what he’s thinking, like, why did you go to that, Everett? It makes total sense.
“As it relates to Malik we’re still kind of in that process of what were you thinking. We had a quick tempo play on and he got out of the quick tempo play, changed the entire formation, and you’re kind of wondering what’s going on here. So there’s still some of that processing going on.”
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It remains to be seen if Zaire’s lack of experience becomes a detriment as he competes against a guy coaches trust, at least in terms of thought process. But while Zaire doesn’t have many in-game snaps, he also doesn’t have many bad plays to his name — something Golson and his 22 turnovers last year can't say.
Zaire (and Golson) threw an interception in the red zone during Saturday’s scrimmage, which Kelly was more upset about than any thought-process growing pains with his left-handed quarterback. Kelly, too, said Zaire does have a solid knowledge of the offense — he just has to continue to learn his coaches’ expectations and be able to better communicate his decisions.
“Malik’s got a good grasp of it,” Kelly said. “Sometimes, it’s like today, having that scenario where we’re in a tempo play, it covers nine out of 10 scenarios, let’s just go run with it. And so sometimes it’s just that simple, having that experience today checks another box in his development.”