Make the Pieces Fit

The best method for Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly's 2015 offense isn't difficult to discern -- making it work will be the challenge, one that must be accepted by the head man and his evolving offensive staff.

Regardless of your preference, it's fair to opine that both options are appealing:

Go ahead Notre Dame fans, pick your defense-killing poisons: Everett Golson's NFL-arm combined with his able feet, or Malik Zaire's yardage-chewing legs coupled with an intriguing rocket-launcher left arm?

Enviable accuracy, both through the mid-zones and deep downfield? Or the bull in a china shop approach? Invaluable experience? Or wide-eyed, applaudable eagerness?

Why not all of the above.

As noted in a column last month, there have been but two certainties that define the five-season Kelly era in South Bend: his offensive approach will change and/or evolve each season, and the red zone is a dead zone in terms of touchdown production.

But a third element can be added, and while it doesn't have to be considered a negative, it's difficult to equate its elephant-in-the-room presence to the ultimate positive (a championship), either.

A quarterback competition. Again.

CAN KELLY -- OR SANFORD -- MAKE THE PIECES FIT?
As Hall of Fame NFL coach Bill Parcells once mused, "If you have two quarterbacks, you don't have one."

Regarding an NFL franchise, I agree wholeheartedly, but I'd argue that's not the case for Kelly, Golson, and Zaire entering spring ball 2015. The latter pair rank among two of the 10 most talented players on the squad. Their talents should, in theory, be combined throughout the upcoming season.

At some point in 2015 -- multiple points, more than likely -- Golson's passing prowess will be preferred to Zaire's yardage-churning approach. Zaire's proven ability to move the chains and apparent skill to finish the red zone drill will also work best at given times.

The youngster triggers the read-option, the veteran of two full seasons beats the defense downfield, cutting up the soft-underbelly of opposing secondaries.

(It's prudent to remember as these off-season discussions continue that LSU's pass efficiency defense -- No. 1 nationally -- was light years better than its rush defense. That won't be the case against top Irish opponents who await next fall. )

It's likewise notable that purported staff addition Mike Sanford favored a ground and pound approach last year, his first season as offensive coordinator at Boise State after leaving Stanford where he coached running backs, quarterbacks, and wide receivers over a three-year stint (2011-2013).

As Irish Illustrated's Tim Prister tweeted, "Under Sanford Jr., Boise went from 51-49 run-pass ratio (2013) to 57-43 run-pass ratio. Increased scoring from 32.8 to 39.7 ppg."

Sign me up for a repeat of both. And coupled with the reality that Kelly's most successful squad, the 2012 edition, featured a committed rushing attack as well, it would appear pounding and protecting the football while reestablishing toughness in the trenches would be the chief goal of a forthcoming spring session.

Walk before you run (or throw).

It's an approach I've favored and thus lamented the lack thereof often during Kelly era defeats and those prior led by former head coach Charlie Weis.

But consider the following two handfuls of arguments to the contrary: Will Fuller, Corey Robinson, Chris Brown, Amir Carlisle, C.J. Prosise, Torii Hunter, Jr., Justin Brent, Durham Smythe, Ali'ze Jones, and Everett Golson.

That's a lot of perimeter weaponry to be limited to the launching pad.

Version No. 6 of Kelly's ever-evolving offense won't be easy to implement and might be difficult to manage, but is nonetheless readily apparent:

He needs two quarterbacks.

Two can help Kelly and his offensive staff feature running backs Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant while implementing the athletic ability of arsenal offered above.

Golson and Zaire. The duo shouldn't duel as much as serve a dual purpose.

Kelly has assembled enough championship-contending parts to make 2015 "the year," but first (or perhaps already), Kelly and Golson will have to come to a conclusion.

And that's only the beginning.


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