SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Brandon Wimbush didn’t take a snap in the first half of Notre Dame’s Blue and Gold Game on Saturday, a stark reminder that the talented rising sophomore is well behind DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire on the Irish depth chart.
Wimbush has a breathtakingly-strong arm and formidable speed, but what he doesn’t have is experience. Kizer started 11 games last year, while Zaire has three career starts. All Wimbush has is second-team reps in practice and a handful of garbage-time snaps last year.
At the start of spring practice, coach Brian Kelly walked back an earlier comment about planning to redshirt Wimbush in 2016 by saying the Teaneck, N.J. native would get a shot at competing with Kizer and Zaire. But Wimbush had to work with mostly third-team reps in March and April as Kizer and Zaire earned equal first- and second-team reps.
The problem, of course, with giving Wimbush that opportunity is that it would take away from the reps Kizer and Zaire require in the neck-and-neck competition to start Sept. 4 against Texas. Both Kizer and Zaire need those reps to improve, and coaches need both players to take those first/second-team reps to properly evaluate them.
“Somebody would have to give up reps, and I'm not prepared to do that right now,” Kelly said. “I’m not prepared to give up reps on Kizer or Zaire to fit Brandon in. And so I would have to make that decision on my own to give up reps on those two guys to give more to Brandon to actually give him a fair chance.”
Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks Mike Sanford was quick to point out that Notre Dame’s No. 3 quarterback during 2015’s spring practice wound up not only starting, but excelling last fall. Wimbush said last month he’s kept Kizer’s trajectory in mind, and knows that his lack of reps doesn’t mean he’s guaranteed to be tethered to the sidelines this season.
“He’s going to be behind, mentally, two guys that have not only been in a competitive situation but have actually played as the starter, prepared as the starter,” Sanford said. “So he’s got a ways to go there but he’s a quick study, I’ll say that. It means a lot to him. He’s very thoughtful in terms of the way he tries to internalize the information. I like his intellect a lot.”
Kelly said Wimbush’s tertiary status isn’t due to poor performance or anything he did wrong. Wimbush’s practice showings, offensive knowledge and supreme talent aren’t in question. It’s just a matter of the seventh-year Irish coach figuring out how to work Wimbush in while making high-stakes evaluations of Kizer and Zaire.
“This is on me more than anything else,” Kelly said. “Brandon's doing everything that he's been asked to do. He just doesn't get enough work. And when he gets in there, he shows — you can see it from the physical talents what they are. (He) just doesn't get enough work.
“So I have to make that decision as the head coach at Notre Dame: Do I get him the opportunity to compete for the starting job, because he's really not getting that chance.”