Position battles to watch: No. 5

With Notre Dame opening spring practice in just two weeks, we're looking ahead to a few items to keep an eye on when things commence on March 3. We looked at players to watch last week, and this week we will follow with positions battles to watch, starting Monday with No. 5.


We know, we know -- it is highly unlikelyEverett Golson can lose the starting job he held down two years ago. He led the Irish to the national title game as a redshirt freshman, got suspended for an academic violation, spent the fall training with George Whitfield Jr. and returned this past January. He is reportedly bigger, stronger and more refined. And with two years of eligibility remaining, well, he gives Brian Kelly plenty to work with as Notre Dame strives to look more like a Kelly offense.

Still, there are only two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster this spring. And Kelly has said that Golson won't simply be handed the job. Kelly was effusive in his praise of Malik Zaire, who redshirted last season after enrolling early and now is essentially the team's only option if something were to happen to Golson.

So you can see why Zaire -- ESPN's No. 6 quarterback in the Class of 2013 -- is so important this spring. He'll get more reps than he would have had there been a more full cupboard at signal-caller. He will likely take the field in some capacity for the first time in 2014, whether it's as a replacement or at the end of a blowout victory. With that, his development is crucial to the Irish, regardless of how much better Golson looks, because Zaire will always be just one play away from becoming the Irish's top option.

This spring Zaire is the Irish's only other option, making this time all the more important for him to prove he belongs, quell any fears about what might happen if Golson goes down and, well, maybe become something more. He has a new position coach in Matt LaFleur, and it's not like Golson's memorable 2012 campaign was without its rough points.

Golson might be the runaway favorite, and he probably should be. But if we've learned anything in college football the last couple of years, it is the importance of the next man in, something Zaire at the very least has a chance to become this spring.