Brandon Wimbush

Is Brian Kelly out at Notre Dame if new QB Brandon Wimbush’s rocket arm doesn’t deliver for Irish in 2017?

Is Brian Kelly out at Notre Dame if new QB Brandon Wimbush’s rocket arm doesn’t deliver for Irish in 2017?

A 4-8 season in 2016 has put Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly firmly on the hot seat as he heads into his eighth season with the Fighting Irish.

In response to a tumultuous season, Kelly made major changes to his staff this past offseason by hiring new coordinators on both sides of the ball.

Mike Elko, who previously led Wake Forest to an FBS Top-40 total defense ranking, was hired by Kelly to be Notre Dame's defensive coordinator, and Chip Long — former offensive coordinator at Memphis — will now be in charge of the Fighting Irish offense.

However, the biggest change and arguably the No. 1 factor in Kelly's long-term future in South Bend, will be the person under center in 2017.

Barring an unforeseen circumstance, junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush — a former Rivals four-star recruit — will lead Notre Dame out of the tunnel in Week 1 vs. Temple.

Wimbush has only thrown five passes during his time at Notre Dame, but showed what kind of talent he has with a 58-yard rushing touchdown as a freshman in 2015.

Wimbush was one of the focal points of a recent Rivals story regarding quarterbacks who will be facing pressure in 2017

Earlier this week, Rivals Recruiting Director Mike Farrell gave his scouting report on the Notre Dame quarterback.

I’m a big fan of Wimbush but that hasn’t always been the case. It’s not that I didn’t like him when I first scouted him before his high school career took off, but what I saw way back when was a kid who had a rocket arm and zero touch. But throughout his high school career he improved every time I saw him, showed much more than just a strong arm and flashed impressive poise for his age.

I’ve seen very limited action when it comes to Wimbush in college as he hasn’t played often and his spring game performance had ups and downs, but I believe in this kid’s ability. He can extend the play, has that great arm and just needs to get comfortable in the Notre Dame offense and make sure he doesn’t try to use that cannon to fit the ball into tight spots. I can see him having some growing pains this season, but as he gets more comfortable and learns to take what the defense gives him while keeping defenses off balance with his athletic ability, I think he’ll finish strong.

Will Wimbush's rocket arm be enough to save Kelly from the hot seat?

That's still to be determined.

As Notre Dame figures out QBs, keeping Brandon Wimbush engaged a priority

As Notre Dame figures out QBs, keeping Brandon Wimbush engaged a priority

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Mike Sanford isn’t forgetting about Brandon Wimbush, even as he and his fellow coaches work through the challenge of playing both DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire in Notre Dame’s Sept. 4 season opener against Texas. 

Wimbush, the super-talented sophomore and former four-star recruit, won’t play this season if everything goes according to plan. With Kizer and Zaire ahead of him on the depth chart, Notre Dame plans to redshirt Wimbush to preserve a year of his eligibility — which they hoped to do last year until Zaire’s season-ending injury forced him into backup duty. 

Keeping a redshirting quarterback engaged is a difficult challenge: Notre Dame lost Zaire for a stretch during his redshirt 2013 season, for example. Wimbush has only received sparing reps in seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 work during preseason camp, and unless something happens to Kizer or Zaire, those intermittent third-team reps will continue through the end of the regular season. 

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So Sanford, who’s entering Year 2 as Notre Dame’s quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator, has had to devise some ways to keep Wimbush engaged during practice and meetings. 

“He likes the challenge of it,” Sanford said. “If you give a young player or a player that right now isn’t necessarily the starting quarterback the opportunity to kind of hang out and get comfortable and complacent, then they don’t grow. I try to to put him on the spot a lot. It also allows Malik, DeShone and the other quarterbacks in the room to see how he’s going to respond and then if he responds incorrectly they’re all ready to jump on it. 

“… And then in practice, coach him hard. The reps he gets individually, coach him hard and let him know every rep he’s taking should be evaluated as a game-like rep.”

While the narrow focus for Sanford, coach Brian Kelly and associate head coach Mike Denbrock is on the 2016 season, they very well could roll into the 2017 season with Wimbush as their starting quarterback. Both Kizer and Zaire will be eligible to enter the NFL Draft after this season, and Zaire also would have the option of transferring as a graduate student after he earns his undergraduate degree from Notre Dame. 

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Sanford said the rocket-armed, speedy-legged Wimbush has made “absolutely mind-blowing” progress from this point last year in terms of his knowledge of the Irish offense. 

“Unbelievable growth,” Sanford said. “And his knowledge of what we’re doing, the physical, mechanical part of it within the structure of our offense is all starting to come together. I get so excited every time he goes out there because you get to see the value of those reps that he got last year. He struggled through them mightily, he was asked to run a very sophisticated offense and didn’t really know much of what was going on. 

“And then he got really 12 weeks of reps with the two’s throughout the season last year. And now to see those really all start to pay major dividends toward his growth is encouraging, so exciting and he’s coming along.” 

Wimbush during spring ball handled the idea of redshirting the 2016 season well and appears fully committed to the Irish — he’s entering the Mendoza College of Business and interned for KPMG over the summer, and said he wants to use his Notre Dame education to become a big-time CEO someday. 

And when 2017 rolls around, Wimbush will be given an opportunity to compete to start at Notre Dame. If Irish coaches are able to keep him engaged in the offense throughout this fall, he’ll have a nice head start on earning that job in a year. 

“There's no frustration on anybody's part,” Kelly said. “He'll be able to compete for the starting job next year.”