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Where Notre Dame was & is: Quarterbacks

UMass v Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 26: Brandon Wimbush #12 of the Notre Dame Fighting looks for a receiver against the Massachusetts Minutemen at Notre Dame Stadium on September 26, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Umass 62-27. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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As is usually the case in football, the play of Notre Dame’s quarterback in 2017 will largely determine the direction of its season. A dominant defense can occasionally ease that burden (see Notre Dame, 2012) or an undeniable running game might shift opponents’ attention (see Alabama, 2012), but the Irish are not likely to enjoy either of those luxuries this fall.

Thus, it will fall to the quarterback to set the tone. That is, it will fall to rising junior Brandon Wimbush.

Entering spring, Wimbush and his five career passing attempts sat atop the Irish depth chart, presumably by a comfortable margin. The clear-cut nature of his status as starter could be seen by some as a precursor to Notre Dame peace of mind, but the lack of a known backup can induce even more anxiety than a quarterback competition.

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This is not to entice panic. Wimbush could remain healthy the entire season, yet sophomore Ian Book or senior Montgomery VanGorder could still be called upon in a competitive situation. Irish offensive coordinator Chip Long fully intends to utilize zone-reads and run-pass options. If Wimbush takes one hit to the head, time may be needed to rule out a concussion. Whoever backs up Wimbush would be needed to keep that drive moving forward.

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Not only did Notre Dame hope to see an understanding of the playbook and overall leadership from Wimbush this spring, but Long and Irish coach Brian Kelly undoubtedly sought consistent competent performance from another quarterback on the roster.

Book will back up Wimbush, pending all pertinent parties remaining healthy. Before anyone takes Book’s performance in the Blue-Gold Game (18-of-25 for 271 yards and one touchdown) to spark talk of a quarterback competition, Kelly put the damper on that immediately following the game.

“No, there’s no quarterback controversy,” Kelly said in no uncertain terms.

RELATED READING: What we learned: Book stars in Notre Dame’s spring finale

Nonetheless, Kelly was quite pleased by Book’s spring as a whole, as was Long.

“I thought Ian probably had one of the best springs on our offense,” Long said the day before the spring finale. “The last two weeks, he has been tremendous. The way he’s executing the offense, from a redshirt freshman, I’ve been around very few who have been able to raise their game like the in the matter of weeks.

“He’s a lot more confident, very accurate thrower, throws a very catchable ball. He makes things happen. That brings me great peace going into the summer knowing that we have a very good quarterback there that we get to keep growing and can keep pushing Brandon. Both of them can go out there and play winning football for us.”

Wimbush may be able to play winning football—every Irish fan certainly hopes he not only can, but will—yet Long still expects more from his primary signal-caller. It is important to keep in mind: For the next 118 days, Wimbush’s greatest flaw will remain his greatest flaw. The only way to fix inexperience is to play.

“He needs to keep growing in the offense,” Long said. “He needs to get out there, in that Stadium, in that atmosphere, without me back there. Be out there by himself with his 10 other players and execute at a high level, doing a great job on third downs, and doing a great job when things aren’t going well.”

The Blue-Gold Game may have presented more of those dynamics than the 14 previous practices did—Wimbush’s subsequent 22-of-32 passing for 303 yards should thus be encouraging—but it is still a long ways from what he can expect Sept. 2 against Temple. In the intrasquad scrimmage, Wimbush and the first-team offense did not dazzle in specific game situations.

Overcoming that deficiency will require much work as a unit over the summer. It will also require Wimbush to focus on his personal shortcomings. Per Long, that starts with Wimbush’s footwork.

“Brandon can make all the throws,” he said. “The biggest thing is his footwork, getting that corrected, getting him more confident with that. … He’s doing a lot better job, just his presence in the pocket, understanding when he needs to evade and doing a nice job throwing on the run. Still a lot to go from, but once he gets his footwork down and cleans it up, the sky is the limit for him.”

Today, this section exists largely to work in a mention of incoming freshman Avery Davis. The three-star dual-threat quarterback out of Texas will most likely preserve a year of eligibility in 2017, staggering him two years off Wimbush’s eligibility expiration and one off Book’s.
Letter is in: QB Avery Davis

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