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No separation yet for Irish quarterbacks

Brian Kelly has DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire ready to play for him. And the longer this competition plays out, the more likely it appears that both quarterbacks will help this offense.

How that shakes out remains to be seen. How this staff handles game-planning, let alone managing two distinctly different quarterbacks, is still a mystery. But with less than three weeks to go before the Irish travel to Austin to take on Texas, Kelly sounds like a coach still expecting to make it work.

“If you’re looking at and asking who are the top playmakers on offense, and if you have five of them, two of the five are the quarterbacks,” Kelly said on Saturday after an open practice. “You saw that again today.”

But as the pads go on and the competition ramps up, the two different paths this offense can go down begin to emerge. And while that makes the identity of this offense a still-developing process, Kelly did differentiate between the two quarterbacks when discussing how the team looked during a live scrimmage session.

“One guy is making great checks at the line of scrimmage, getting us in protections, getting great one-on-one matchups,” Kelly said, in reference to Kizer. “And the other guy is making somebody miss in the backfield and throwing to a wide open back.

“They both have different ways of moving the offense down the field and that continues to show itself as we move through camp. Both of them have a way to move the offense, they just move it a little bit differently.”

You can slice and dice that last comment any way you want to, but if we know Kelly at all after six seasons, the attributes he assigned to Kizer are traits he values quite highly.

Then again, after watching the Irish offense be more explosive in 2015 than any other season, finding a play-maker who can bail out an Irish offense relying on youth at receiver isn’t the worst thing in the world. Zaire’s escape and touchdown pass to Tony Jones—a play that sounds mighty similar to the scramble and connection he had with Justin Brent in the spring game—is a skill that Kelly craves, too.

With camp soon to transition from installation and identity-building to focusing on a gameplan to beat Texas, if any one thing is starting to stand out, it’s that the staff is beginning to prepare specific menus for each quarterback.

“I think more than anything else is we’re trying to make sure that we run the offense through their skills,” Kelly explained. “Every day is not what did you see to decide about the Malik or what did you see that is going to help you decide on Kizer. We already know about both of them.

“It’s really about focusing the offensive play calls and the offense that we want to run through Malik. And focusing the play calls in the offense that we want to run through Kizer.”

So with Kelly, Mike Denbrock and Mike Sanford—three proverbial cooks in the kitchen–the question isn’t if Zaire or Kizer are capable of beating Texas. We’ve seen Zaire do it, slicing and dicing his way through the Texas defense. And Kizer won more games than anybody expected.

So as the team continues to evolve, a head coach once dead-set again juggling two quarterbacks sounds more and more comfortable with the idea.