Does Zaire have a chance to start?

February, 3, 2014
Feb 3
9:00
AM ET
Brian Kelly was asked a question about Everett Golson, and so he talked about Golson, albeit for 16 seconds. Then he shifted attention to the other dual-threat quarterback on Notre Dame's roster, applying the brakes for the next minute-plus as he discussed another signal-caller who redshirted during his first year in the program.

"I know we're always in this rush to move to Everett, but I just want to caution everybody that we have I think a very good quarterback in Malik Zaire as well," the fifth-year Notre Dame coach said. "And I'm not ready to hand everything over to Everett. I love Everett. He played in the national championship game; I'm like everybody here. But I'm also somebody that wants to make sure that the quarterback position is such, especially with [quarterbacks coach] Matt [LaFleur] now with us, that we give everybody an opportunity to compete for that position, and Malik's going to get that chance as well.

[+] EnlargeMalik Zaire
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsMalik Zaire, who redshirted in 2013, continues to receive raves from Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly.
"Everett's doing great. He looks physically like he should be at this time, and the reports have been great and we're very, very excited. But I do want to caution everybody, including anybody that's around the program, and our players in particular -- I'll use this opportunity to do that -- this is a pretty good quarterback that we didn't play this year, Malik Zaire, that's going to get a chance, too."

Few could blame Kelly for reining in the hype machine, especially with a talent like Zaire waiting in the wings. And few could blame those who let said the hype machine mushroom. Golson did, after all, help lead Notre Dame to the national title game in his only season. His name was brought up at seemingly every other media availability with Kelly during the 2013 season despite his semester-long exile.

There was a reason for that, of course. As Kelly said Friday when describing what he wants the 2014 offense to look like, the Irish have lacked the dynamic playmaker best-suited to run his show.

"We have been driven behind the tackles for the last couple of years," he said. "We would like to be a little bit more dynamic outside the pocket."

Golson's lone season certainly suggests those capabilities, with 298 rushing yards and six scores on the ground. And he had been given more control last spring, pre-suspension, with the Irish further tailoring the offense to his talents.

Yet he spent his first year at Notre Dame in much the same fashion that Zaire did, running the scout team while admittedly struggling in the classroom. Both players enrolled early and both showed flashes of promise in the spring game, with Kelly hesitant to use either any more than he had to during the following falls -- which is to say not at all.

"From my standpoint, both these guys are coming in with a blank slate as far as I'm concerned," LaFleur said. "I don't have history with either one of these guys, so I'm just excited to see what these guys are all about and watch them work and see how they compete, just kind of learn along the way."

Zaire was just recovering from a late-summer battle with mononucleosis as Golson was departing for San Diego last September. And it is safe to assume that the Irish are getting back a refined version of their former starter after two months of work with quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr.

"The reports have been good," Kelly said of Golson. "Physically he's put on a lot of weight, stronger, more mature, something that we would expect. But it's Jan. 31, so there is a long way to go."

New offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock, having coached the outside receivers last season, said his old group felt very comfortable with Zaire last year during practice, respecting his downfield passing ability. No one from Notre Dame can comment until Wednesday on incoming prospect DeShone Kizer, who, like Zaire, is a four-star quarterback from Ohio.

And while Kizer will look to make it a three-man race, signs still point to the pair of Buckeye State natives chasing the one-time starter Golson when all is said and done, with Notre Dame advancing its push to look like the Brian Kelly offense many envisioned upon his move from Cincinnati five years ago.

"If you've watched coach Kelly's offenses in the past, I think they encompass an offense that's more in an attacking style," Denbrock said. "He likes to go fast, he likes to keep the defense on their heels, he likes to be very aggressive with what he does, and I think that's the direction we're certainly moving into. With the athletes that we have, we feel like we're in a position offensively to push the tempo more and to put our playmakers in positions where they can make big plays and do the things that all of us hope our offense looks like, one that's dynamic and can score more points and move the football consistently."

Matt Fortuna | email

College Football

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