Of Zaire, Manning, and the two-headed reality

Notre Dame junior quarterback Malik Zaire has one goal: to win championships. His secondary goal, however, remains paramount.

Irish football faithful can forgive junior quarterback Malik Zaire if he doesn't look back fondly on Notre Dame's quarterback machinations between the first-time starter Zaire and 24-game starter Everett Golson during the 2014 Music City Bowl.

"It's not an ideal situation," said Zaire when asked if the end result of the 2015 quarterback battle is a 'job share.' "At the end of the day, there's only one Captain Jack Sparrow of the offense. Coach Kelly makes decisions, I don't get paid to make decisions. I wish I did. I do what I'm supposed to do and however it plays out, it plays out. So I have to make the most of my opportunities and go from there."

That opportunity exists as more than coach-speak because of Zaire's efforts just prior to and since his MVP performance in a 31-28 win over LSU.

"I think Malik has to continue to lead, said head coach Brian Kelly. "He has to continue to show that he has not only game-day skills, but the practice skills necessary to lead our football team.

"We may have gotten to Malik a little bit sooner if we had seen some of the natural leadership abilities that he showed on the sideline during the LSU games, if we had seen those things during practice (in 2014). You saw what I saw. He was up and down the bench. He was inspirational to his teammates. We want to see that in practice. We want to see that consistently."

The affable Zaire won't reveal what weaknesses he's been asked to improve since season's end ("secrets, secrets, secrets" he jokes), but did offer insights into his daily progression as a passer.

"I have to continue to be consistent and efficient. After every practice we put up our (passing) percentages from team, one-one-on, 7-on-7, that kind of stuff. I think those are important to look at in terms of being a consistent and efficient quarterback," said Zaire. "I don't want to say that numbers define everything but they mean a lot in terms of your personal development and growth of being a mature quarterback in an offense where we do a lot of things."

Zaire doesn't get caught up in each throw, but rather keeps note of his current trend.

"I look at it as more of a progression," he said of the posted percentages. "You're going to have good days and you're going to have bad days, but the average mean is something you need to look at to determine how effective and efficient you are.

"It gives us a visual of our performance. It impacts me to keep it in mind (because) every evaluation by the coaches is only opinion, but when they give you the facts and the numbers, it sticks with you."

TEAM FIRST, BUT…
Asked to comment on his (nearly annual) quarterback competition at the early stages of spring ball, Kelly first reflected on his employed past tutors of the position.

"It's kind of interesting if you take a step back…When Coach (Chuck) Martin was running the offense (2012-13), there was a real focus on the quarterbacks in protections and really being cognizant in how to protect themselves. That was kind of his thing; that was his wheelhouse. That was a huge point of emphasis.

"With Coach (Matt) LaFleur (2014) it was concepts, concepts, concepts. A heavy emphasis on concepts.

"Those two things they (Zaire and Golson) are really good at. Some of the fundamentals, which we saw were exposed last year, are areas that (new offensive coordinator) Mike Sanford is really strong at. So there's that piece that was missing that is really being coached and we're seeing that development of some of the fundamentals that really weren't being emphasized to the point that I liked, and seeing that come together in practice.

"I'm seeing them so much more in-tuned with the fundamentals of the position and doing the little things that I think now can accelerate their growth, because they know how to protect themselves and they have a great understanding of the concepts."

The most notable take from Kelly's comments above is that his quarterback remains referred to as "they," and likely will be as such for the foreseeable future. As Zaire said, and as Golson will surely agree, it's less-than-ideal for the players themselves.

Presented with the scenario that Notre Dame qualifies for the sport's four-team playoff next fall, but with a job share under center bringing the program to that end, Zaire offered a circuitous stamp of approval.

"I don't know if it's my place to answer that," he said. "At the end of the day, Peyton Manning doesn't share time with a lot of people. I think Peyton Manning's greatness and his efficiency in his offense and what he does and his perfectionist mentality is what makes him Peyton Manning, and what makes him not share time with other people.

"It's inspiring for every quarterback because at the end of the day you have to bring it, and I think that's what's important within a team, at every position. You have to bring it every day.

"Because that holds you to a higher standard, a higher expectation. Coach Kelly said it best, he looks for people with production. It's not about the name anymore, it's not about what you say in an interview with media, it's about production.

"And that's what I'm focusing on: producing, making plays, and doing what it takes to win championships."


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