Our series predicting spring happenings continues today with No. 3.
Prediction No. 3: Malik Zaire takes the next step
Brian Kelly had gone out of his way in January to say that Everett Golson wouldn't simply be handed the starting quarterback job upon his return, and that Zaire would be a very real factor moving forward. New position coach Matt LaFleur echoed those comments, saying that he has no experience with either, so he can only judge both players on their future production.
We'll see this spring just how much Zaire can turn this into a real competition. He is coming off a redshirt season during his first year on campus, much like Golson was before the 2012 season. They both had enrolled early. They are the only two scholarship quarterbacks on the spring roster, meaning there will be more reps to go around for both of them. And neither has much experience throwing to Notre Dame's current crop of pass-catchers, especially with Golson favorite DaVaris Daniels suspended for the spring semester after an academic violation.
The main difference between the two? Golson spent last fall exiled in San Diego, working with noted quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr., who reportedly reworked the quarterback's mechanics and helped him add plenty of weight. He still has two years (and three springs) with Kelly under his belt, too. Zaire, whom Kelly eventually said he had planned to redshirt all along last season, missed plenty of valuable practice time late in camp and early in the season as he battled mononucleosis.
Still, Kelly and former position coach Chuck Martin were very high on Zaire last season, lauding his arm strength and assertiveness in live situations. The southpaw was ESPN's No. 6 quarterback prospect from the Class of 2013, and he certainly has the talent to, at the very least, quell the Irish's concerns should Golson need to miss any action.
But with many more snaps to work with, and with a position coach who has the same amount of experience with both quarterbacks, Zaire will have every chance in the world this spring to take the next step and prove to be a valuable quarterback for Notre Dame moving forward. We all know how crucial No. 2 quarterbacks have been for the Irish in the Kelly era so far, and now that the fifth-year head coach finally has a cupboard full of like-minded signal callers who can make plays with their feet, it stands to reason that Zaire can win over plenty of eyeballs here in the next month or so.