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Players to watch in the spring: No. 3

2/10/2014

Our series looking at players to watch this spring continues, as we turn our attention to the most important position of them all.

3. Redshirt freshman QB Malik Zaire

When introducing new quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur last month, Brian Kelly likely raised a few eyebrows by saying that Everett Golson will not automatically be Notre Dame's starting quarterback upon his return. While the odds of a player with no game action unseating a signal-caller who took the Irish to the national title game -- a signal-caller who is coming off a fall spent with one of the nation's premier quarterback gurus in George Whitfield Jr., no less -- might seem like they are slim to none, the point is moot. No matter how much better Golson is when he take the field again, there must always be a Plan B. And few have a better opportunity to become Plan B -- and perhaps even more -- than Zaire.

The southpaw was ESPN's No. 6 quarterback recruit from the Class of 2013, enrolling last spring. He came down with mononucleosis late in fall camp, forcing him to the sideline for the season's first three games. He ended up redshirting anyway, something Kelly later said had been the plan all along. It makes sense from a roster-management standpoint, as the Irish have said goodbye to Tommy Rees (graduation) and Andrew Hendrix (graduate transfer to Miami (Ohio)), not to mention Gunner Kiel (transfer to Cincinnati) almost a full year ago as well. Now Notre Dame welcomes in DeShone Kizer this fall, giving Kelly three scholarship quarterbacks who, in his words, "all do the same things."

With just Golson and Zaire making up the Irish scholarship quarterback depth chart this spring, there will be more reps to be had. And it was just two springs ago when Golson began to make his leap as a redshirt freshman to starter, one who led the Irish to their best season in 24 years.

Can Zaire do the same? The odds are against him, but the spring depth chart is working in his favor. Golson had some help in navigating a 12-0 regular season two seasons ago, and the Irish need to know they have a more-than-capable alternative if and when rocky roads arrive in 2014.