Full speed ahead for Kizer, Wimbush

Whereas DeShone Kizer could ease his way into his freshman year at Notre Dame, incoming signalcaller Brandon Wimbush will arrive with a greater sense of urgency while Kizer is on “one play away” alert.

When Everett Golson chose to remove himself from Notre Dame’s quarterback equation and take his final year of eligibility elsewhere – which ultimately became Tallahassee, Fla. – any semblance of a battle for the starting job with the Irish this fall evaporated.

Junior Malik Zaire will be groomed as the No. 1 quarterback on the depth chart. Today, tomorrow and – barring injury or sub-par performance – each day of the next three seasons.

Zaire already had a taste in the spring when he shared No. 1 reps with Golson.

The dramatic change comes behind Zaire where red-shirt freshman DeShone Kizer and true freshman Brandon Wimbush now become the troops falling in line behind the anointed one.

That’s a bit of a scary proposition when you consider that Zaire is the “veteran” of the quarterback corps with one starting assignment, albeit against perennial SEC frontrunner LSU in the Music City Bowl victory over the Tigers.

Compared to his backups, Zaire is a veritable seasoned veteran.

With Golson at the controls and Zaire the understudy waiting in the wings, there was never a consideration to burn Kizer’s red-shirt season in 2014, and frankly, there wouldn’t have been much call for Kizer in ’15 if Golson had stayed.

The pace picks up now with Kizer the proverbial “one play away” from taking all the snaps, at least as it appears at this moment with Wimbush yet to step foot on campus as a fully-fledged Notre Dame football player.

“He’s always been studious, he’s always been great in meetings,” said Irish head coach Brian Kelly of Kizer Wednesday from the LaBar Practice Complex.

Kizer is the antithesis of Zaire, Wimbush and even Golson in terms of physical makeup. Golson, of course, always was a throw-first quarterback despite his 5-foot-11, 200-pound stature. Zaire, at 6-foot-0, 220 pounds, and Wimbush, at 6-foot-1, 212 pounds, are configured comparably.

Kizer stands 6-foot-4 ½, 230 pounds, which lends itself to the pass-first stereotype, even if his high school numbers – 5,684 yards passing, 1,211 yards rushing -- indicate dual-threat.

Zaire is put together well as he prepares for the physical pounding that awaits a read-option quarterback with the passing game mixed in. Kizer doesn’t fit the mold of the most recent signalcallers brought in by the program, although the Irish certainly have recruited length at the quarterback position, including once-committed Blake Barnett, who ended up at Alabama.

“He’s going to have to go out now and perform,” said Kelly of Kizer. “He’ll get a lot more work, a lot more reps. We’re confident that he can develop, and obviously, he’s going to need to. The bench is not long there.”

The length of that bench stops at Wimbush, the dual-threat signalcaller most comparable to Zaire physically, but more along the lines of Golson in terms of statistical distribution during his prep career.

Wimbush completed 71.6 percent of his 222 prep passes for 2,702 yards and 31 touchdowns while rushing the football effectively. But he ran it just 56 times for 586 yards and eight scores.

Wimbush may ultimately prove to be the better fit for Kelly’s preferred style of offense, although he’ll arrive at Notre Dame light years behind even a player like Kizer, who despite his lack of game-day playing time has had a full season and a set of spring practices to learn the system.

“Wimbush comes in Saturday, and he’ll get an opportunity to get a lot of reps too,” Kelly said.

While the quarterback situation dictates that Wimbush learns things more quickly than Kizer had to in 2014, there’s still a learning curve that must be navigated before Kelly can declare Wimbush on the fast track.

“We have to prepare him as if he could compete,” Kelly said. “He has to be ready to compete. I don’t think we have the luxury of looking at him and saying, ‘Okay, you’re a red-shirt, don’t worry about it.’ We could do that with Kizer (last year), so it clearly is a different situation.

“Accelerate? We have to find out what he will know when we throw it at him the first time. What he can absorb will be important to see over the next couple of weeks.”

A crash course in quarterback play is on the horizon for Notre Dame’s physically-talented yet inexperienced corps of signalcallers on the 2015 roster.


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