Former Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer returned to the university’s Loftus Center Thursday as part of the program’s annual Pro Day. His battery mates in the approximate 20 minutes of pass/catch drills were an eclectic group to say the least.
Kizer’s quintet of targets was comprised of the following:
- Two running backs (Jonas Gray and Tarean Folston), the former once a Sports lIlustrated cover subject thanks to his work with the New England Patriots
- A former Notre Dame defensive tackle turned tight end that finished his career last fall at Ohio State (Chase Hounshell)
- A running back-turned wide receiver that began his career at USC before graduating in May 2015 in South Bend (Amir Carlisle)
- A former wide receiver-turned current student body president (Corey Robinson)
Where’s Will Fuller when you need him?
“Very confident in what I put out there today,” Kizer said. “This process is very different in a sense. The way that you look productive in a combine and Pro Day is very different than what productivity actually looks out on the field.
“Very happy with the guys who came out and help me out.”
Kizer attempted an aggregate eight passes to the quintet in the 2016 season — all to Folston.
“It was definitely a different situation than most,” Kizer admitted. “A lot of guys go into Pro day with at least one or two guys they’ve thrown to quite a bit. But that’s football. That’s how it’s going to be two months from now when I’m throwing to guys I’ve never thrown to before.
“Not necessarily the best situation in terms of having a guy you’ve thrown to for years in advance but we made the best out of what we had.”
Unofficial reports offered approximately a dozen incomplete passes among Kizer’s 60 throws though at least half of those initially found a pair of would-be pass-catcher’s hands before dropping to the Meyer Field turf.
Kizer offered his chief charge for improvement after a less-than-compelling NFL Combine performance was better accuracy across his body.
“Some of my throws to the left,” he said. “At the Combine I was really jerky at the top of my (pass) drop. I wanted to show that that wasn’t really me. It was definitely an emphasis that I had at the combine to be a guy who turned aggressively at the top of his drop kind of separate myself, but it then it threw me kind of off balance.
“To get back to drifting left rather than jerking and turning left was something I want to do.”
In stark contrast to most Pro Day passers, Kizer engaged in continuous banter with his targets, sometimes cajoling (“Way to go get it, Corey!”), sometimes feigning surprise (“That’s an athlete right there!” directed at the converted tight end Hounshell after a twisting, leaping grab) while other times coaching as needed (“look it in, Amir).
Kizer even included a dose of good-natured ribbing to the only participant who was never a teammate, but the only player among that to enjoy a modicum of success at the NFL level: “Two hands, Jonas,” said Kizer to Notre Dame’s breakout runner of 2011 after the latter reeled in a one-handed pass thrown slightly behind him.
“It was more about having fun. Showing what we could do,” Kizer said. “Those guys have been training just like I have. To go out there and throw to them and show what we can do and how we can contribute to a team in the NFL was an awesome opportunity.”
MYRIAD STEPS FORWARD…ONE LOOK BACK
Always confident but not bereft of self-awareness, Kizer was frank regarding his need for improvement as a pure passer. He’s a work in progress.
“It’s all about consistency in this league. Productivity comes from consistency,” he said. “Anything I can do to prove I’m an accurate passer all the time is going to help me out. It’s going to help anyone out. The experience I was able to have here at Notre Dame and the responsibilities I had here at Notre Dame are those that teams like to see because it’s going to be times ten by the time you get to the NFL.”
For all quarterbacks, consistent accuracy begins from the bottom, up.
“Just identifying who I am as a passer,” he began of his need for improved footwork in the professional ranks. “When you’re at the college level there’s so many different ways you can go about the quick game; the drop-back game. For us at Notre Dame, when you have so many bright-minded coaches, there’s always going to be adjustments that have to be made.
“Going into the NFL I need to know who I am. Not what Coach Sanford wanted me to do. Not what Coach Kelly wanted me to do. Not what Coach Denbrock wanted me to do. But truly, ‘Where am I most comfortable? Where am I most accurate? Identify it. Perfect it. So that when I get there I know exactly what I want to do and be as accurate as I possibly can.
Kizer admitted he’s been asked often by evaluators and NFL personnel about Notre Dame’s 4-8 record in his final year as the starter behind center.
“I just expressed to them that as a quarterback, the ball is in my hands at all times, and quite frankly, if you’re going to win more than four games the quarterback is going to have to make some plays and I just didn’t make those plays last year,” he said.
As for the 2017 Irish he’s left behind?
“Those guys have said there’s been a big change in terms of the aggression in the weight room, the way they’re attacking the field, attacking the position groups,” Kizer said before noting he talks to projected starter Brandon Wimbush “at least weekly.”
“It’s his time to shine…obviously there’s a lot more to the quarterback position than throwing the ball far and running fast. There’s going to be a lot that he’s going to have to do in terms of leadership, and taking over, and accepting the complete role as a Notre Dame quarterback,” Kizer continued. “I’m looking forward to helping him through that process and as long as we continue to talk I’m going to be his biggest fan.”