QB Spring Battle Almost Over

The biggest story is obvious for Notre Dame during spring ball. It was on display Monday night. After practice, three of the four quarterbacks who are competing for the starter's job were swarmed by the media. First, it was Evan Sharpley and Zach Frazer. Next, it was Demetrius Jones. Charlie Weis doesn't permit freshman Jimmy Clausen to talk to the media. Who'll start in the fall?

Weis is being intentionally tight lipped about how the competition is going. The Notre Dame head coach doesn't want to tip his hand to the public. Weis will narrow it from four to two after he returns from the recruiting trail in late May. Monday was the last opportunity for the media to get one of the quarterbacks to divulge any information before Saturday's Blue-Gold game. One of the signal callers was cautious in his spring evaluation.

"I showed great signs of improvement, especially since the last time Coach Weis evaluated me," sophomore Demetrius Jones said. "All in all, I think I've done some encouraging things. I still have some things to work on."

When asked where he thought he stood in the quarterback pecking order, another signal caller was more forthright.

"In my eyes, I'm No. 1," sophomore Zach Frazer said. "Hands down."

Talk is just talk and Weis will determine the top two contenders on how they performed on the field, not in the interview room. What is known is that there are four talented quarterbacks in the race to replace Brady Quinn and all have different approaches to how they approach the game. The little separation could pay dividends in competition to get into the final two heading into the summer and fall camp.

A characteristic that Weis was fond of Quinn in was his leadership skills. Jones mentioned earlier in spring ball an example of Quinn's style that he admired. In the comeback win over Michigan State, Quinn shook off some early miscues to lead Notre Dame to a huge comeback victory that got the Irish's season back on track. The ability to forget a previous bad play and muster the leadership for the rally stuck with Jones. The leadership aspect of the quarterback position has been vital in this spring's competition.

"Coming in, and it was something Coach Weis talked about, was proving yourself as a leader" junior Evan Sharpley said. "The four of us going at it, we each had different personalities to create our own leadership style. I feel each guy is a little different. Hopefully, I improved myself each day in that category."

Sharpley is the only one of the four with game experience. The junior saw action in eight games in 2006 in mop-up time for Quinn as the backup. Sharpley's eight games are eight more than the other three combined, although there weren't a lot of meaningful downs. Weis has seen a world of different from 2006 to now for Sharpley.

"I don't think it's even close to where Evan is now," Weis said on Monday. "At this time last year, he was just trying to get into the mix and to be a backup. Now, he's in the mix to be a starter."

Sharpley had a solid outing in the 2006 Blue-Gold game. Sharpley completed 10-of-12 passes for 112 yards, including a 40-yard pass-and-catch to Darrin Bragg. That type of performance from the junior this Saturday would leave Weis with a good final impression.

"It's a different venue and there will be a lot of people there," Sharpley said about Saturday. "It'll be set up like a game to make it feel like it's game day. You have to approach each practice and game the same way. It's that important and important as the first day."

Frazer is trying to use the same approach to Saturday's contest.

"It's a little more but you can't hype it up too much because then you'll nervous and play bad," Frazer said. "I look at every game as just a game and do my best and it helps me relax."

When talking about the quarterback race, Frazer is sometimes the fourth player mentioned. Clausen is the freshman phenom. Sharpley has the experience. Jones has a dual threat ability to hurt teams with his arm and legs. Frazer is the classic pocket passer. The sophomore is the biggest out of the four, standing at 6-4 and weighing in at 226 pounds. Frazer believes this is one of his best assets on the field.

"It helps me see the field," Frazer said. "Everyone of our quarterbacks has different traits, just like every wide receiver or running back. It depends on how you look at things."

As noted above about his belief that he's performed the best this spring, Frazer feels good about his effort the past 13 practices.

"I thought it went well," Frazer said. "There's a lot of learning and key points that you can take from and learn from in the game. It was nice getting used to because this is a young team. It's nice to play together as a full unit in full pads."

Clausen is the biggest mystery among the four. The freshman's fabulous high school career has been well-documented but the news has been silent in the spring. Weis, as has been his policy since he took over as head coach, doesn't allow the media to interview freshman except for once in fall camp. The press has only seen one practice and the 20-minute interval at the beginning of each session. The Blue-Gold game on Saturday will be Clausen's public unveiling to the Notre Dame nation.

Clausen was put on the Blue team with Jones while Sharpley and Frazer are on the Gold squad. Jones, the Chicago native, is the most athletic of the bunch. The sophomore might also be the most personable of the quarterback quartet. Jones always seems to have one or two classic quotes per interview session. Jones feels he's done enough this spring to be in the top-two heading out of spring ball.

"I'm very confident," Jones said. "But the coaches have to evaluate the players on a different level. Just like you guys want to know what's going on, at the same time I want to know the same thing. I go to practice, run plays and am back there competing."

Jones doesn't think his reaction will change one way or another depending on the decision. One thing is clear: the Chicago native has no plans on finishing second in the quarterback race.

"I didn't come in to be a backup or someone's sidekick," Jones said. "If I'm named in the top two, it's another stepping stone in my career here.

"I don't know if you remember but when I first got here I was supposed to be a receiver or switching positions. None of that came from the coaches. Ever since I've been here, it's been baby step, baby step. You probably won't even see me crack a smile because that's what I've been working on. If I am in there, I'll pat myself on the chest and start counting down the days until August."


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