Spring Questions: Quarterbacks

A quartet of questions concerning Notre Dame's quarterback unit heading into spring ball 2015.

Below is the first of 11 such columns previewing head coach Brian Kelly's sixth spring session in South Bend.

The questions are pertinent. The initial answers? Well, they're one man's opinion -- One man using logic and recent history as his guide.

1. WHICH OFFENSE WILL THEY OPERATE?
And is there an outside chance that choice has been made, or will be made soon?

It seems logical that if Everett Golson is considering remaining in South Bend for a fifth-season, head coach Brian Kelly and incoming offensive coordinator Mike Sanford, Jr. have to consider an offense that features something other than a true zone-read approach to facilitate the Irish rushing attack. (For instance, The Pistol allows for physical north-south running coupled with play-action for a strong passer such as Golson.)

No matter who wins the job, it's incumbent upon Kelly, Sanford, and the Irish to value the running game more than the program did in either 2013 or 2014. That doesn't necessarily mean employing the oft-referenced "run first" approach, but it also doesn't mean passing 40 times against Northwestern…including three straight times in overtime with a quarterback sporting a fresh shoulder injury.

If Kelly is heavily leaning toward Zaire as his top triggerman, the intricacies of the read-option should be the focal point of 15 spring sessions for Zaire, running backs Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant, and the offensive line. And for another quarterback not named Golson…

2. WHAT ABOUT DeSHONE KIZER?
The most interesting aspect of spring practice might be the number of reps the rookie receives as the session winds down.

(That sentence revealed in a nutshell what I think about spring practice if you're not a player or coach.)

At the outset, it would be illogical for Kelly not to fully invest in Kizer each practice session as much as he does Golson and Zaire. Spring is about development, and Kizer doubtless needs the most work and would face the stiffest test should he be forced into emergency action at any point next September.

Barring a Golson transfer, Kizer's best chance to win a meaningful backup role next fall is to impress, and frankly, to often perform better than his elders this spring.

Adding to the intrigue is the reality that Kizer could go from definitive No. 3 in late April to the no-doubt No. 2 quarterback weeks later without any of the competitors again gracing a football field.

And No. 2 on opening day means he's one snap away from being the main triggerman in his head coach's defining season in South Bend.

3. CAN THE COMPETITION BE WON THIS SPRING?
Depends on who wins it, right?

If Zaire proves slightly better than Golson, but Kelly is concerned with the former's improvement in the mid-range passing game, efforts to keep Golson in the fold post graduation become off-season Job No. 1.

If Golson proves better than Zaire, then Kelly A.) catches a break, because Zaire isn't going anywhere, and B.) will have to heavily consider featuring a regular two-QB attack.

Zaire can't ride the pine in 2015, he's far too valuable a playmaker, and he's likely to be a more effective red zone quarterback assuming he can be afforded a full set of downs with which to work if a Golson-led offense breaches the opponent's 25-yard line.

Just a guess (and by guess I mean certainty): Kelly won't name a quarterback this spring unless he's learned Golson has plans to play elsewhere next fall.

Nor should he.

4. WAIT, IS THIS 2011?
The similarities between Spring QB Battle No. 4 (2015) and Spring QB Battle No. 1 (2011) during the six-spring Brian Kelly era are striking:

-- As with 2011, disparately talented returning former starters hold a significant edge over their intriguing redshirt-freshman competitor (in 2011 it was Dayne Crist vs.Tommy Rees ahead of Everett Golson; in 2015, it's Golson vs. Zaire ahead of Kizer).

-- As with 2011, the choice of triggerman inevitably -- whether acknowledged to the media or not -- results in a major tweaking of the offensive system to best fit the starter's skill set.

-- As with 2011, fans will be heavily divided in their collective choice of favorites, though the possibility of using both is far more intriguing for 2015 than it was four years ago.

-- Unlike 2011, the options for 2015 are wholly appealing.


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