Malik Zaire knows every pass will be charted. Everett Golson knows every check will be totaled. And if either rival for Notre Dame’s starting quarterback job doesn’t trust Mike Sanford on that, the offensive coordinator can hand over the data.
And Sanford has, presenting the numbers designed to make one of the program’s most subjective competitions more objective in its outcome.
“We want those guys to feel accountability for every rep that they take,” Sanford said. “It helps them in their progression, but it also helps them understand that we’re not going to make an arbitrary decision on who’s the starter.”
That decision won’t come this spring, although Sanford noted an ideal would be to have a No. 1 set by training camp. Sanford can appreciate the anxiety between Golson and Zaire better than most considering he endured his own quarterback competition as a senior at Boise State. That one didn’t resolve until pre-game introductions of the opener.
“And it wasn’t me,” Sanford said. “I didn’t really like that model too much personally.”
With spring ball on Easter break, Zaire and Golson have six practices and the Blue-Gold Game to make their case before the real off-season. They continue to split reps and wear red jerseys as Sanford works to create a competition on even terms. The differences Sanford has worked through this spring are the quarterbacks’ learning styles.
Zaire may be the more physical runner, but Sanford has focused more on the rising junior’s personality. Golson is the better passer, but Sanford has scouted how the senior takes notes.
Sanford delivers a universal message during meetings, then customizes his points afterward by player.
“Malik is a very social entity … (we’re) making sure that he and I are always in communication,” Sanford said. “Everett sits in the meetings, takes tremendous notes and then asks questions right away.”
Sanford admits the format of spring practice hasn’t put Golson in position to test his ball security after fumbling 12 times last season and losing eight. In comparison, the rest of the Irish roster lost four fumbles combined all year.
But Sanford does believe he has an invested quarterback in Golson, regardless of reports last off-season that he’d begun to evaluate transfer options. Golson, who is expected to meet with reporters next week for the first time this spring, told Irish Illustrated after the Music City Bowl that he is on track to graduate in May.
“The thing about Everett that I’ve been so appreciate of is his buy-in,” Sanford said. “Everett’s been outstanding in the meeting room environment. He’s very engaged in the process. He’s very engaged in the mental side of the game. At practice, he’s self-correcting. He really is a clean, mechanical quarterback from the standpoint of the throwing process.”
For Zaire, the issue is less attention span than passing fundamentals after growing up running read-option, still part of Notre Dame’s offense.
“He’s got unbelievable athletic ability, obviously the body type to play multiple positions,” Sanford said. “His arm talent is very good, he’s working through the mechanical fundamentals.
“If he’s a well-trained pocket passer first from a mental standpoint and a fundamental physical standpoint, obviously the sky’s the limit with his abilities as a runner and what he can do outside the pocket. He’s very zealous in wanting to learn and wanting to correct everything.”
The competition between quarterbacks is a real one and Sanford gets that Golson and Zaire don’t need to be friends off the field. Sanford doesn’t want his meeting room ruined by a rivalry either.
“Let’s be competitive but not combative, that’s what we’re really trying to get accomplished,” Sanford said. “I think it’s really important for the health of the room.”
And the health of the offense.
Sanford doesn’t need a spreadsheet of completion percentages to prove that.