Like it or not, the quarterback position at Notre Dame has always been the most talked about position at Notre Dame. The quarterback is the field general and at Notre Dame, no spotlight is brighter in college football. The quarterback position will always be the position of highest interest.
When Tyrone Willingham accepted the head coaching job at Notre Dame, Irish fans envisioned gaudy passing numbers with a high-flying offense scoring points in truck-loads. The reality of the situation was the Irish, Willingham and offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick had an option quarterback, a walk-on and a true freshman to navigate this passing and scoring machine—not exactly ideal circumstances.
Starter Carlyle Holiday had never run a passing or pro-style offense. His most effective play was getting chased out of the pocket and scrambling for yards. Holiday was clearly hamstrung by an offense without vision, direction or any idea of what the goal was other than not to turn the ball over.
The Irish had their share of warts on offense last year—most inherited from the previous staff. An offensive line with as many systems as coaches in the past few years, lack of a pass-catching tight end, wide receivers that were more accustomed to blocking than catching the ball and the lack of a healthy halfback or a back who could catch the ball well. Throw in a totally new scheme and it's pretty impressive they won more than 6 games—let alone 10.
Holiday didn't have the numbers you'd expect from a winning quarterback in a pro-style offense. He was 129-257 for 1788 yards, 10 touchdowns and five interceptions while completing just over 50 percent of his passes. What he did do was win some games. He had a knack for making big plays at times when the Irish offense needed a play and that is the sign of a winner.
What most fans seem to forget was the obvious difference between Carlyle Holiday in 2001 and Holiday is 2002. He made tremendous strides in his mechanics, arm strength, motion, footwork and all things quarterback. Diedrick didn't have a lot of time to work with Holiday but his work certainly was noticeable. Holiday started to resemble a starting quarterback in a pro-style offense.
As the pounding, sacks and injuries started to pile up on Holiday, his mechanics slipped. Diedrick noticed but said you can't fix much during the season. . "There were things that we tried to work on in the fall," said Diedrick. "I think you kind of mend things but I don't think you can really fix things during the season. Your focus is in so many different areas and to try to put all of that on him at one time would've been tremendously difficult. It was hard enough as it was trying to come in and learn a new system, be productive and be consistent."
Diedrick said in May that they took the time this spring to work on the little things and Holiday certainly looked like a brand new quarterback. "What we did was kind of wait until the off-season and these are the things that we really identified and wanted him to work on and he really went to work and did a great job over the winter.".
Diedrick was impressed with the progress Holiday made. . "I don't think there's any question about that," said Diedrick on Holiday's improvement. "I think that's what you really anticipated from him, that there would be not only a good deal of improvement on the mental side and feeling a lot more comfortable but also the physical abilities. He's done a great job in the off-season, working really hard on his mechanics, on his throwing motion and also working real hard on his accuracy and placement of the ball. I think that has really shown through spring ball and I'm very, very pleased with the progress that he's made from a year ago this time."
In spring practices, Holiday showed even more polish in practice. Diedrick's influence was obvious in the improvement of Holiday. His arm strength is outstanding. His footwork, throwing motion and set up have all improved. Even his accuracy seemed to drastically improve.
If you are looking for evidence, Holiday only played two series in the spring game and was schedule to play just one. Diedrick could've let him play the whole game to give him more experience but opted to let his young quarterbacks get some experience instead. That speaks volumes as to how confident Diedrick is in his quarterback.
As we now discuss the future and which quarterback the Irish will sign, I am excited to see what Diedrick can do with a pro-style quarterback. Holiday is far from a finished product but with steady improvement, he could work himself into a NFL quarterback. He has the size (legit 6-3, 220), his arm strength is very impressive, he is obviously mobile, he makes big plays in crucial situations and is starting to look like an NFL quarterback in mechanics. If he can grasp the mental part of the game, Holiday might work himself NFL quarterback—not bad for a player destined for the option game.
Diedrick's list of quarterbacks sent to the NFL is long and distinguished. If he can put Holiday in the NFL, I would suggest that is quite an achievement for a quarterback coach. Holiday will also have a lot to do with that but Diedrick certainly will guide the way.
The list of possible quarterbacks for Notre Dame this year is impressive. Anthony Morelli, Brian Brohm, Chase Patton, Sean Lewis and Rocky Hinds are all pro-style quarterbacks. Other names are out there as well and all are pro-style quarterbacks. I can't wait to see what Diedrick can do with one of these players as well as the quarterbacks already at Notre Dame. Considering the remarkable improvement in Holiday in a short time, I am excited to see what he can do with quarterbacks that have experience in a similar style of offense.
I do think you will see a much better quarterback in Carlyle Holiday in 2003. The mental part of the game remains but Holiday is essentially a red-shirt freshman in this offense. He has two years to improve and I'm going to bet that by the time Holiday leaves, he will be a very polished and much improved pro-style quarterback and could be cashing NFL checks in the future.