KIZER VS. ZAIRE, ZAIRE VS. KIZERMatt Cashore / Irishillustrated.com
With spring practice coming to a close and Brian Kelly declaring that Malik Zaire has evened up the race heading into the summer, Irish Illustrated puts a bow on the competition for now with as objective of an analysis as possible.
No favorites due to personal likes and dislikes. No favoritism toward one over another because of preconceived notions and “cheering” for one over another. Just a one-on-one analysis with the winner being the one who gives Notre Dame the best chance to win, which ultimately is the bottom line.
(Editor’s note: Let the record show that during the Blue-Gold Game, a person in the stands sitting behind me said, “There’s my guy, Brandon Wimbush. That’s who I want to win the job.” Wimbush, a very exciting prospect, has no mastery of the offense, and thus, he’s not in the running for the job. More on the talented but not ready Wimbush to follow.)
As it relates to Kizer vs. Zaire, here’s how I see it:
Kizer is a technician. He takes pride in knowing the offense, where everyone should be lined up, what play gives the offense the best chance to succeed, and how to create a mismatch by checking into plays that leave the defense vulnerable.
Zaire is a grip-it-and-rip-it quarterback. He thrives on a high motor and playing in an attack mode. He wants to overcome the opposition with sheer will and energy. When it doubt, let it fly. When it doubt, run away from everyone. He has the ability to bail the Irish out of a lot of bad plays.
Kizer is measured. He has the ability to see and check into more advantageous plays. Zaire doesn’t use the play clock like Kizer does. He wants to attack a reeling defense and keep the opposition on its heels. Both, depending on the situation, can give an offense an advantage.
Kizer is a quiet leader; Zaire plays on high emotion. With Kizer you know what you’re getting; with Zaire, his calling card is the element of surprise. Kizer can rip it, but he’ll beat you with a touch pass. Zaire can finesse it sometimes, but he’d rather rip your heart out with a bullet. Kizer’s relationships are calm one-on-ones; Zaire rallies the masses and attracts relationship through high-energy motivation.
Kizer ad-libs to keep the drive alive; Zaire ad-libs to cut the defense’s heart out. Kizer has struggled in the red zone; Zaire is a react on the fly guy whose sheer athleticism gives him a better chance to succeed in the red zone by creating chaos for the opposition. Kizer knows where everyone should be and the corresponding adjustment; Zaire would rather beat you to the punch than wait for something to develop.
When in doubt, Kizer looks for the more advantageous play and checks down; when in doubt, Zaire rifles a pass in a small window. Kizer is, for the most part, an accurate passer. Zaire plays with a damn the torpedoes approach. Kizer shows touch; Zaire shows a cannon. Kizer is the picture of poise; Zaire is the picture of intensity. Kizer is in control of the time on the clock; Zaire wants to speed up time.
Okay, maybe that’s pretty subjective. It’s an interpretation of approaches and personalities as well as a physical analysis.
But at the end of the day, extrapolating those impressions and applying them to the type of quarterback Brian Kelly appears to prefer, he’s going to choose the technician over the attack-at-all-costs quarterback. He’s going to choose the quarterback more inclined to complete 60 percent of his passes and move the chains as opposed to big-play guy with the greater margin for error.
NBC analyst Ross Tucker – trying to remain objective without declaring a winner – summed it up best. “All the pre-snap stuff, the poise and the comfort level, I think Kizer is a little ahead of Zaire,” Tucker said.
Kelly said all the right things after the Blue-Gold Game to leave the competition open-ended. But when it comes time to make a decision, which is four months than now, he’s going to be more inclined to choose Kizer over Zaire. The comfort zone Kizer offers will carry more weight than Zaire’s quick-strike, game-breaking ability because Kizer does a better job of reducing mistakes.
SHAUN CRAWFORDMatt Cashore / Irishillustrated.com
The red-shirt freshman cornerback/nickel back played in a green jersey to indicate that he was not to be hit. Crawford, on the other hand, was in attack mode in the Blue-Gold Game.
He’s aggressive, has a great feel for the opposition and plays an intelligent brand of football without sacrificing aggressiveness. He is a weapon as a nickel because he has all the physical tools to defend inside receivers, who can use a break right or left to get open. Crawford’s outstanding athleticism and make-up speed allows him to defend in wide-open spaces.
Crawford will blitz off the edge, but he’ll also diagnose a play and position himself to make a tackle. At 5-foot-8 ½, 180 pounds, he is as physical as any player on the defense pound-for-pound. He is a complete football player, minus ideal size, although that size plays into his tremendous athleticism.
“It seems like no matter what the play is, Crawford knows what’s coming and keys and diagnoses it very quickly,” Tucker said.
That’s easier to do in a Blue-Gold Game where most the offensive pyrotechnics are kept in their wrappers for when it counts. But Crawford understands technique, angles and tendencies.
If you’re looking for potential stars on the 2016 team, this guy is – along with a few others -- at the top of the list.
KEVIN STEPHERSONMatt Cashore / Irishillustrated.com
From the start of spring drills right through the Blue-Gold Game, the early-entry freshman was impressive. He consistently caught the football – the deep teardrop pass by Kizer that Stepherson dropped not withstanding – right up there with Torii Hunter Jr.
He runs good routes. He was open all spring. The quarterbacks seem to find him when he’s open and he rarely misses on an opportunity. We saw what Kelly was talking about with regard to catching the ball at full speed on a second-half reception from Wimbush.
This is a real quality prospect. He needs to get stronger in the lower body to withstand the rigors of the game, but he’ll be ready to make an impact this fall.
We also got a chance to see his free-and-easy punt-catching skills. Of course, there was no thought of a return as dictated by the rules of the Blue-Gold Game format. We’ll see how he handles it in front of 80,000 people live if C.J. Sanders hasn’t completely overcome his hip issue by this fall. But he looks like a nice alternative, at least as it pertains to catching the football.
DEXTER WILLIAMSMatt Cashore / Irishillustrated.com
Williams’ overall performance – 13 carries for 43 yards – was evaluated mostly by his 16-yard touchdown run in which he showed his power by breaking tackle attempts from linebacker Josh Barajas and safety Max Redfield. (He also benefitted greatly on the touchdown run via blocks from left guard Trevor Ruhland on undersized Elijah Taylor and center Sam Mustipher on nose tackle Daniel Cage.)
Kelly talked earlier in the week about Williams’ downhill running style. He used his burst and power on the touchdown run. Except for one other run, he was mostly stymied by the scrum-like in-fighting up front.
This is an exciting addition to the running back mix with Tarean Folston and Josh Adams. There’s a role for Williams as a five-carry-a-game running back in ’16 with a chance to expand his role if he can continue to show effectiveness as a downhill runner, particularly in short-yardage situations.
If Folston returns completely healthy, which he should, and Adams builds upon last year’s quality play, which he should, there will be games Williams doesn’t get his touches. But at least he’s in play whereas last year, he would have needed another injury in the backfield to get playing time.
BRANDON WIMBUSHMatt Cashore / Irishillustrated.com
Irish fans should be excited about the future of Brandon Wimbush. The kid has a cannon and is a devastating athlete. To say he has the best arm among the quarterbacks, as Kelly did, says a great deal because Zaire is the equivalent of a left-handed closer that throws 95 miles per hour. Wimbush has a free-and-easy throwing motion that allows him to throw the ball out of the stadium, but he has more touch than Zaire.
Wimbush has outstanding vision as a runner with the escapability to match. He has a built-in radar that allows him to avoid contact as a runner. He has the potential to be a nightmare for opposing defenses. His sheer athleticism will make him difficult to contain.
He’s not ready to be the starting quarterback at Notre Dame today and probably not this fall. Kizer and Zaire are way ahead in terms of mastery of the offense, particularly Kizer.
His time will come. But it’s best if he preserves a year – provided Kizer and Zaire stay healthy – and continue the process of learning how to run the offense as opposed to relying almost completely on his athletic skills.
OFFENSIVE LINEMatt Cashore / Irishillustrated.com
The offensive line exits the spring in great shape at left tackle (Mike McGlinchey), left guard (Quenton Nelson) and right tackle (Alex Bars), although Bars looked a little anxious at times in the Blue-Gold Game and lost the great balance we saw from him the previous Saturday in a two-hour open practice.
It was difficult to fully assess Sam Mustipher this spring, at least from the outside looking in. But after adding the Blue-Gold Game evaluation with his match-up against Cage, it’s even more encouraging. Mustipher is, to summarize, an intelligent brawler. He picked up the offense/checks rapidly this spring. The battle with Tristen Hoge probably wasn’t as close as Harry Hiestand diplomatically assessed a couple of weeks ago. Mustipher will just keep getting better and better.
The right guard position is a concern. Hunter Bivin had balance issues in the Blue-Gold Game. Too much lunging and flopping around, which were issues with his predecessor, Steve Elmer. The difference was that Elmer was a power run blocker who usually overwhelmed defensive linemen when he bulled his way forward with strength and pad level. Bivin has neither Elmer’s power nor pad level in the run game. Colin McGovern remains an option but may lack the combination power/athleticism to move beyond relief pitcher status.
There is no margin for error at tackle. The alternative this fall will be Tommy Kraemer and/or Liam Eichenberg.
Nyles Morgan will be a much more effective blitzer from the Mike linebacker position than a banged up Joe Schmidt could be in 2015.
We saw in the Blue-Gold Game why there’s concern with Drue Tranquill playing safety on the hash as opposed to a box safety. When Chris Finke got the edge on a deep ball from Zaire, Tranquill committed, to use Kelly’s words, a panic PI (pass interference). Anything in front of Tranquill is right in his wheelhouse; anything behind him is the area where he needs considerable improvement.
Max Redfield’s performance in the Blue-Gold Game is the type of productivity the Irish need from a starting safety. That was a quality overall performance. Credit to Devin Studstill who filled beautifully on a Zaire keeper to dump him for a short gain. He didn’t play tentatively for an early-entry freshman. His body control and ball skills are better than Redfield’s, probably by a substantial margin.
Torii Hunter Jr. is on the star list with Shaun Crawford.
Tons of credit to Equanimeous St. Brown for taking a monster hit from Daniel Cage, suffering a physical setback (left shoulder), and coming back into the game to make a reception. The Irish don’t know what they have until St. Brown can get stronger and avoid injury.
Daniel Cage could be a force. He won’t be a consistent force until he works himself into tremendous condition. Until he does, stamina will be an issue. His development is critical because right now, he’s in a three-man tackle/nose rotation with Jarron Jones and Jerry Tillery. Jones may rotate at nose and tackle, which means Cage’s work volume has to improve. (Note: Isaac Rochell slipped inside with Jones, bumping Tillery to an end position on a 3rd-and-short early in the scrimmage.)
The jury is still out on Andrew Trumbetti as a three-down player. He needs to have an outstanding summer in the weight room.
It wasn’t a big day for Alizé Jones in the pass-catching department, although he did snag three passes for 27 yards. The most impressive aspect of Jones’ Blue-Gold Game was his willingness to scrap as a blocker. Bend at the knees, maintain balance and then work like crazy to occupy a defender. If Jones simply does that, while adding off-season strength, he’ll contribute as an open-field blocker. In-line blocking will take some more time.
It was a noteworthy spring for Josh Barajas, although a couple of missed tackles in the Blue-Gold Game indicate he needs to get stronger and more determined.
Nice improvement this spring by Cole Luke as a physical run defender. That role is critical with the loss of KeiVarae Russell.
Avery Sebastian has difficulty against the pass, which we knew coming in. His hip turn defending the ball is methodical. He is a physical, instinctive run defender, however, which gives him a shot at a role.
It’s Nyles Morgan’s turn, sink or swim. He’s still going to miss run fits, which is always worse than missing tackles. (A missed tackle slows the runner and allows for help; a missed run fit keeps the running back charging unimpeded and leads to big plays.) Morgan is a legit prospect. Now he just needs to play and benefit from his experiences.
Asmar Bilal is a helluva prospect. He attacked run fits in the Blue-Gold Game and was around the football. He’s also the No. 3 Will linebacker with a healthy Te’von Coney and Greer Martini. His role could shift to Sam linebacker long-term, which is exciting. He will be a starter for Notre Dame one day, but it won’t be in ’16 if those ahead of him stay healthy.
James Onwualu rarely will come off the field. He is the brain center of Brian VanGorder’s operation.
Jerry Tillery is a four-gear player who plays in third gear a majority of the time. He needs to improve his motor. His predecessor, Sheldon Day, played in fifth gear on every snap. The Irish will not be able to crease gaps at the three-technique like Day did on a consistent basis in ’15. That’s very limiting in VanGorder’s scheme.
The promise of Jay Hayes is balanced out by the fact he is and always will be a tweener – part three-technique, part defensive end. It is imperative that he is in outstanding condition come August so he can maximize the motor and energy he offers. He played at 285 this spring. He’d be more effective at end if he were 275. Jonathan Bonner also is a tweener, which means what applies to Hayes also applies to him.
Jacob Matuska can be an asset as an in-line blocker. Durham Smythe remains a bit of an unknown with the most complete skill set (including in-line blocker) among the tight ends.
It may be too early/too soon for Miles Boykin this fall. But there’s a quality receiver in there. Still don’t know about Corey Holmes. Just keep working hard and developing. He needs to narrow the gap between his football speed and his track speed.
For more on individual performances from the Blue-Gold Game, check out Saturday’s Snap Judgments. http://www.scout.com/college/notre-dame/story/1661626-blue-gold-game-sna...