Not one of the four Notre Dame signal-callers competing to replace Brady Quinn at the helm stood out over the others during Saturday's Blue-Gold game concluding spring practice. Not that a big game would've mattered to head coach Charlie Weis, who has said many times he and his staff will evaluate the 14 other practices evenly in coming to a decision on what two guys will battle for the top spot on the depth chart in the fall.
That decision will be made shortly after Weis and his staff return from the road recruiting and return to the office on May 21. The four quarterbacks can expect a call from Weis about a week after that.
"None of the four would I say ever played themselves out of contention," Weis said. "I think that is as strong a statement as I can make.
"We have had every pass in the air recorded for the whole camp. So the only thing we have left to apply to what we have already for objective analysis, is the game today and they only threw it a handful of times."
Just 24 passes were thrown between junior Evan Sharpley, sophomores Zach Frazer and Demetrius Jones, and freshman Jimmy Clausen. Weis gave a glimpse of the power-running offense he hopes to have come fall because of a young offensive line and an inexperienced quarterback. The longest pass of the day was a 15-yard fade from Jones to sophomore receiver Rob Parris, who made a great adjustment on the ball for a touchdown. The ball was under thrown, but may have been tipped.
The quarterbacks alternated possessions throughout the scrimmage, with Clausen and Jones running with the first-team offense, and Sharpley and Frazer guiding the second unit. Clausen finished the day 3-of-7 passing for 23 yards. Jones was 3-of-6 for 23 yards, with the touchdown and an interception. Sharpley was 5-of-7 for 31 yards and Frazer didn't complete any of his four passes, with an interception. He should've had a 24-yard touchdown pass with less than a minute to go in the fourth quarter, but Richard Jackson dropped the beautifully thrown ball in the end zone.
Though Clausen and Jones ran with the first team on Saturday, all four guys had their opportunities to run with that unit during camp.
"I think the number of reps each one of these guys had with the first group is within five," Weis said. "It's that close.
"None of them will be able to say I never got a shot."
It was a tough day for the 6-foot-4, 226-pound Frazer. He was the first quarterback to take the field, and on his first offering, Will Yeatman dropped a third-down pass that would've moved the chains. Later on, Frazer threw between two receivers right into the hands of Ray Herring.
Clausen took the field next to a nice ovation from the spring game record crowd of 51,852, at Notre Dame Stadium. The 6-foot-3, 207-pounder had to throw away his first attempt, as he was pressured by Trevor Laws who was a thorn in his side all day. Clausen's next pass attempt on the game's fourth drive, a 13-yard out to Parris was the highlight of his afternoon.
The stage was set in the game's final two minutes for Clausen to add to the already humungous hype. On his own 35-yard line, with his Blue team trailing 10-6, he had a chance engineer his first collegiate comeback. He looked poised, and on a fourth-and-six play, he hit tight end John Carlson for 15 yards, but the senior was called for pass interference, and Clausen didn't have much of a chance on fourth-and-21.
"I've seen him start to take charge a little bit, especially in the huddle," senior captain Travis Thomas said. "He picked up the plays really well. He's making passes when he needs to. Still got a lot of work to go, everyone has work to improve on. But he's looking really good right now.''
The touted Clausen's debut played a huge role in the record crowd, but the first look at Jones was anticipated nearly as much. He'd like to have back his first pass. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Jones overthrew a streaking Carlson over the middle hitting safety David Bruton in the chest, who ran with it 35 yards the other way for the pick six.
Jones's next time on the field following his classmate's interception, he completed the touchdown pass to Parris. In the third quarter, Jones got a chance to display the other aspect of his game, seeing a seem quickly when dropping back to pass, and tucking and running for a 31-yard gain. There were other times where Jones, and the other quarterbacks could've took off and ran, but all they had to be was touched to be ruled down. There were seven sacks by seven different players.
Sharpley, who had a big spring game last year, didn't have quite the same afternoon, but none of the quarterbacks were really given a chance to put up big numbers.
"I gave them a limited number of passes except for anything that (honorary) coach (Lou) Holtz or (honorary) coach (Ara) Parseghian decided to put in," Weis said. "Which they obviously did as you noticed. I kept the number of passes to a minimum because I wanted them to come out there and run the football."
It was tough to get a read on who was ahead of who, because for one, it was nearly impossible for those guys to scramble with the touch rule, and two, alternating possessions kept the quarterbacks from getting into any kind of rhythm.
If the quarterback derby is as close as Weis has made it sound, all four of those guys have no clue where they stand and will wait for their cell phones to ring.
"So it looked to me like Clausen has got a lot of talent," Parseghian said. "I thought that Demetrius has got great speed, very athletic guy, and Zach Frazer looks like he's got talent. Looks like he's got a great arm. And Sharpley, they have got four guys they can work with.
"I'll tell you right now, one of those guys will emerge and be talented this fall, that's my opinion, because there's enough, they have got good arms. All of them have good arms. I suppose Demetrius has a little bit more speed and athleticism and the other ones are in the hunt, because they have got the ability to throw the football."