What looked like an either/or proposition for Brian Kelly now appears to be all of the above.
That means instead of running a two-man quarterback competition during spring practice between Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer, the Irish will throw Brandon Wimbush back into that mix too.
Kelly said on National Signing Day that the sophomore would red-shirt this fall after Zaire’s injury forced him into emergency action last season. Now Kelly has backtracked on that personnel move, at least for spring ball, with Wimbush getting a shot at the starting job too.
“Brandon will get an opportunity to compete,” Kelly said. “I know I’ve talked during the year about the possibility of redshirting, but as we’ve gotten the chance to assess his situation, we want to give him a chance to compete as well. We think he’s extremely talented, so he’ll be given the opportunity to compete as well and have the chance to break through as well.”
Despite Kelly reactivating Wimbush, the sophomore winning the job would still represent a shock. Yet that might be the only outcome that could be called a surprise considering what Zaire and Kizer can offer. And that doesn’t mean either of them have to actually win the position.
In Zaire, Notre Dame has a Music City Bowl MVP and a player who tore apart Texas in the season opener. In Kizer, the Irish have a junior who’s already led two fourth quarter road comebacks and pushed Notre Dame into College Football Playoff contention.
Kelly knows he could ultimately play both this season. In fact, he might have to within an offense that lost three starters on the offensive line and the entire receiving corps. That group not only lacks experience, it lacks leadership too. Zaire and Kizer can help with both.
“The ideal situation for us would be, ‘Let’s obviously get this done and move this team to the No. 1 quarterback,’ but we don’t see it happening that way,” Kelly said. “This thing is going to be so closely contested that it’s going to take us some time to figure out, if we ever get to that, that we’ll clearly have a No. 1.”
Kelly said Zaire is fully healthy after suffering a broken ankle last September at Virginia. He returned to throwing during Fiesta Bowl preparations and spent spring break in Arizona working with personal quarterbacks coach Dennis Gile, who also worked him during Christmas break.
Kizer worked out with George Whitfield, who also coached Everett Golson during his exile. Wimbush joined Kizer during spring break on the West Coast.
Playing two quarterbacks has worked for Kelly before with some efficiency. Golson and Zaire rotated during the Music City Bowl. Golson and Tommy Rees both played during the BCS National Championship Game season.
But Kelly has also been forced into a quarterback rotation during his career too. In the past 10 years an opening day starter in Kelly’s offense has gone wire-to-wire during a season just once, mainly due to injury.
Kelly, who called his depth an “embarrassment of riches” also said he didn’t subscribe to the theory a player couldn’t lose his job due to injury.
Regardless of the quarterback over-analysis that’s sure to come in the next 15 practices, which kick off Wednesday morning, there’s no debate Notre Dame will have a strong starter in the end. Whether the Irish stage an authentic open competition or focus it on Zaire-Kizer, the big winner will actually be Kelly.
He’s never had quarterback depth quite like this.
“If there is one kind of underlying fact about this spring, all eyes would be on the quarterback position,” Kelly said. “I think that’s an understatement. We’ve got really three outstanding quarterbacks.”