In the midst of winter conditioning and now just two weeks away from its first spring practice, the Notre Dame football program faces scores of questions after the loss of NFL talent, dozens of long-time contributors, and immeasurable veteran leadership. Irish Illustrated examines the 12 most important questions to be answered over rest of the winter, spring, summer, and ultimately into the fall.
QUESTION #7 – HOW TO HANDLE THE QBs?
Two of Brian Kelly’s best football players reside in the same position group this spring. That’d be great news if the pair played defensive tackle, defensive end, offensive tackle, safety, linebacker, wide receiver, cornerback or even running back.
It’s a bit of a quandary when the duo is instead forced to duel at quarterback.
Such is life for Notre Dame Football 2016 – the second transition season in the last three years, one in which younger talent will need to rise to the fore, just as it did over the first two months of the transition campaign of 2014 when a youth movement put Kelly’s squad in the playoff conversation entering what became an ill-fated November.
But leading this season’s new influx of talent will be a quarterback asked to win games rather than manage them.
USAGE OF TALENT
It’s reasonable to suggest that Notre Dame’s staff feels a comfort level – one commensurate with championship football – with the following competitors:
-- Two offensive linemen, Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson
-- Two defensive linemen, Isaac Rochell and Jarron Jones
-- Two running backs, Tarean Folston and Josh Adams
-- Linebackers James Onwualu and Greer Martini
-- Cornerback Cole Luke
-- Wide Receiver Torii Hunter, Jr.
-- Tight end Durham Smythe
-- Kicker Justin Yoon and Punter Tyler Newsome
-- And Quarterbacks DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire
Others such as Corey Robinson, Andrew Trumbetti, Max Redfield, Alex Bars, Jerry Tillery, Aliz’e Jones and the like are at least on the cusp and at least two dozen others could (must?) enter the equation by the time August camp breaks.
Considering the team’s enviable talent makeup but dearth of veteran leadership, Kizer and Zaire – not one or the other – must both be involved each Saturday between the lines next fall, just as they’ll be each day prior to the bullets going live.
In this *unique instance, it’s nonsensical to effectively “bench” one among a young team’s 10-to-12 best football players merely because another from that group proves to be marginally more successful in their head-to-head, pre-season duels.
THE CHALLENGE OF DUAL LEADERSHIP
Implementing the on field talents of two capable triggermen is far less an inherent challenge than meshing the pair’s leadership styles, egos and expectations.
It’s my belief Kelly planned to make a shared quarterback situation work last season had Everett Golson decided to remain in South Bend. Zaire had proven capable in 2014 end season stints as had Golson prior to his curious November swoon that fall.
Now he has two mentally tough, team-first talents at the trigger. Both can beat a defense through the air or via the rush; both won’t shy away from competition or any crunch-time situation.
Regardless of your preference, be it Zaire’s apparently indomitable spirit or Kizer’s remarkable ceiling in his redshirt freshman season, it’s hard to argue one of the pair should be relegated to a minor role, or a starring role dependent upon injury to his close competitor.
It’s up to the innovative Kelly – a coach that would have embraced this situation in previous, less-complicated coaching stops – to best utilize the talents of his two potential stars.