NO. 1: QB-BRANDON WIMBUSH (RS-So.)
• The Journey: Placed in the No. 3 quarterback role as a true freshman in 2015, Wimbush was in line to preserve a year of eligibility behind Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer when the former went down with a season-ending ankle injury that pushed the inexperienced Kizer into the full-time role.
Wimbush, who did not play the first three games of the ’15 season, saw his first action against UMass when he completed 3-of-5 passes for 17 yards and rushed four times for 92 yards, including a 58-yard touchdown.
With Notre Dame’s 7-1 record heading into the Pittsburgh game, Brian Kelly felt the need to get Wimbush more playing experience – just in case -- while burning a year of eligibility against the Panthers. Wimbush’s fumble was turned into a Pittsburgh touchdown. It would be Wimbush’s final appearance in 2015.
With Kizer and Zaire back in 2016, the Irish were able to preserve a season of eligibility during his sophomore year.
• The Spring: No player hit the ground running quite like Wimbush this spring. He took charge of the offense from the outset and carried himself like a veteran leader of the group. He’s handled himself with a level of maturity on the field and in the interview room.
In the handful of open practices to the media, Wimbush has thrown the football very accurately. He’s missed some deep-ball touches and generally has played to the strengths of the large receiver corps by missing high when he does miss. His arm strength is top-of-the-line.
Athletically, Wimbush has it all. On a couple of occasions, he has kept the football on the read-option and burst around the edge with authority. He has the breakaway speed of another former Irish great, Tony Rice, but is a much more accomplished passer of the football. At 6-foot-1, 225 pounds, he’s also bigger than Rice as the evolution of the game over nearly three decades has dictated.
• The Quote: “Physically, there’s not a whole lot that he can’t do. From a maturity standpoint and really grasping everything, he’s been outstanding. He’s really dedicated himself to learning what we’re trying to coach, getting in the playbook and understanding what we’re doing. He’s taken a bunch of steps mentally. Now it’s our job to make sure he has consistent days and puts everything together.” -- QB coach Tom Rees
“Where I’ve been most impressed with him is he listens very well. He makes the appropriate adjustments and goes to work on what you instructed him. The second thing is his presence. He runs that offense like he’s been running it for a few years. There’s no panic, there’s a calmness, there’s an organization to it.” -- Brian Kelly
“If you prepare yourself, you don’t have to ‘get prepared.’ I feel like I did that the past two years. Obviously, DeShone was thrust into a situation where he had to be prepared and he was. He did it successfully. I learned a lot from that scenario.” -- Brandon Wimbush