He'll know it when he sees it

Head coach Brian Kelly offers pertinent injury updates and updates his ongoing search for a starting quarterback as Notre Dame begins preparations for August training camp.

Brian Kelly's fifth season in charge of Notre Dame football begins similarly to his previous four: amid great expectations, a full handful short of his 85-player scholarship allotment, and, of course, with a pending competition to determine his starting quarterback.

But unlike past seasons, Kelly is certain that no matter which triggerman is chosen, be it prodigal son Everett Golson or rookie Malik Zaire, the victor be well-equipped to handle the job.

"This is the first time I don't have to have two scripts for different quarterbacks," Kelly offered of the pair's similar traits. "They're running the same plays. And that is a huge advantage in terms of building consistency throughout the ranks. For everybody, from the offensive line to the receivers to the quarterbacks. It's a huge advantage. We can run the same offense with both guys. It trickles down to everyone within the offensive structure."

Kelly once noted of Golson he possessed "the art, but not the science" of the position. That search is ongoing, though the latter's knowledge of the playbook is no longer in question.

His understanding of the offense's overall dynamic, might be.

"Understanding the move before it's made. Understanding me and what I'm thinking before that call is made," said Kelly of what he needs from Golson. "That's what we're trying to get to. He knows everything in the playbook. Now, (the question is) Why are we running it? Why are we doing this? What's the next call here when you see this coverage?

"That's where we are in this process. When you get there, you want the quarterback to be one step ahead of you. We're not there yet, but we're moving in that direction."

Zaire's current foibles are more predictable. As a second-year player, he's not yet approached the status of finished product, nor should that be expected of him.

"He's pretty good at the 'why?' said Kelly of his redshirt-freshman. "He understands the concepts. Once-in-awhile he'll revert back to some freshman mistakes. We just have to clean up some of the hiccups that he'll have.

"He's got a great understanding of what we're doing and he can do some really good things for us. We just have to keep him focused on a day-to-day basis. Stay within the system. I really like his progression, he's been great this summer. Don't revert back to some of the mistakes he's made in the past. If he does that, he's going to be ready to compete at a high level."

And compete both will, though not for a set time period. When Kelly finds his man, he'll move forward expeditiously.

"I think in an ideal world, every coach would want one quarterback that has clearly demonstrated a consistency of great leadership and the ability to take you to a championship. If that guy shows himself, I'm ready to name him the quarterback on that day," Kelly offered.

"I'm not playing a game where we're trying to create artificial competition within the ranks. I think we still have competition for that particular role to show itself. I think it can show itself. And when it does, we'll be ready to make that declaration. I just hasn't shown itself yet. I'm confident that it will."

On the mend and out of the mix

Notre Dame's pre-camp injury news offered a mixed bag: three competitors crucial to the team's success are ready to roll, another has shown promise, and one, a key cog albeit in a reserve role, from the program's standout defense of 2012, is done with football.

"Unfortunately, Tony Springmann has suffered a setback and he is not going to be able to play football for us," Kelly offered of the senior defensive tackle. "He has come back from his (August 2013) knee injury but he's had a lingering back issue and that is not going to allow him to continue to play football. He will be a medical (scholarship) situation for us.

"He'll still stay involved in the program," Kelly continued. "Tony has done a great job of mentoring a lot of our younger players. He's shown great leadership, great resolve in coming back from his knee surgery. He'll stay connected with our program and still be part of us even as we go down to the Culver Academies."

While Springmann is out, it appears a trio of classmates are back in the fold, including middle linebacker Jarrett Grace, out since October 5 due to multiple fractures in his lower leg.

"We think that he's in a great position now where he's going to be close to ready when the season starts," Kelly said of Grace. "He's in a position where he's running, it's going to be a wait-and-see process, but he is so much closer than we ever thought he could be as we go into August."

Ready to roll from the outset are two other seniors recovering from November 2013 knee surgeries, Nick Martin and Ben Councell.

"If you take a guy like (center) Nick Martin, who kind of set the bar from coming back from a tough (torn MCL) knee injury. He is full go. (Linebacker) Ben Councell (torn ACL) -- the way both of those guys have set a high bar from coming back from knee injuries and now being fully capable to do everything in our program.

"We will have to monitor their (practice) volume, but to come back in the manner they have worked has been outstanding."

Starting tight end Ben Koyack had (previously unreported) shoulder surgery but he's back to full strength. Conversely, No. 3 tight end Mike Heuerman won't join the Irish on the practice field until at least the start of the season.

"Mike had another hernia setback. He's had surgery. He'll be lost for another month before he's ready to go."

Notre Dame enters camp with 80 scholarship players, most recently losing Springmann and incoming freshman linebacker Nile Sykes who was let out of his national letter of intent earlier this summer. Sykes will play for Indiana this fall.


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