Notre Dame Football: Everett Golson

Brian Kelly will unofficially kick off the 2014 Notre Dame season at noon Friday when he meets with the media. The Irish will start fall practice Monday at Culver Military Academy in Culver, Indiana, with 10 players speaking afterward. The team will return to South Bend for practice next Saturday.

Here are three pressing questions as camp gets underway:

1) What is the timetable for naming a starting QB? Kelly has been adamant all along that this is a real competition between Everett Golson and Malik Zaire, and both players have echoed that. Zaire certainly isn't going away quietly, but it is hard to discount the experience Golson has. Two years ago, when the Irish entered camp with four signal callers jockeying for position, Kelly anointed Golson the No. 1 guy nine days before the opener. Don't be surprised if this race drags on a little bit longer. (And let's not forget DeShone Kizer will be taking snaps, too, though he obviously has plenty of ground to make up.)

2) What is the status of Jarrett Grace? The last we heard, Notre Dame planned to be aggressive with Grace in his recovery from a second knee surgery, when he had a rod inserted into his right knee on March 28. Kelly sounded as though the options were getting him healthy for the opener or getting him ready to compete for a starting spot. Grace, who had broken the tibia and fibula during an Oct. 5 win at Arizona State, would provide a huge boost to a thin inside linebacker corps should he be at full-strength during camp.

3) What's next for the offensive line? Despite the losses of left-side bedrocks and NFL draft picks in Zack Martin and Chris Watt, Notre Dame enters camp with more quality depth up front than it has in recent years. The sure things appear to be the returning starters: Ronnie Stanley at left tackle, Nick Martin at center and Christian Lombard at right guard. After that, well, Steve Elmer will probably start off at left guard, but might be better-suited for right tackle, where 6-foot-7 redshirt freshman Mike McGlinchey impressed this spring. And if Elmer ends up at right tackle, that leaves the door open for Matt Hegarty or Conor Hanratty to start at left guard. Both players saw extensive action last season, and Hegarty actually played center in place of the injured Martin both down the stretch last season and throughout the spring.

What else are you itching to hear from Kelly about from with football right around the corner?

Notre Dame mailblog

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
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The season's getting closer ...

Shaun from Connecticut writes: Matt... Leading up to preseason camp here in a few weeks, what is your opinion and feel on who the starting QB is going to be? Is Golson a lock at the position?

Matt Fortuna: Shaun, I'd say Everett Golson remains the favorite, but having Malik Zaire there to push him is a good problem to have. Zaire is a player who will not go down without a fight, and so far I think everyone has been pleased with Golson's response. It is also pretty telling that Golson went back to work with George Whitfield Jr. after the spring season, and that he went out to help at the Elite 11 recently as well.




Ronald Harjers from Bridge City, Texas, writes: Big Fan of your work, Matt. My question is where is the fire in the Irish. I watched the Irish win the title when I was 18. That team and even the early 1990s teams had that fire in their hearts and eyes. I haven't seen that type of fire in a long time. Do you see this team coming together as one, and fired up! Go Irish, fear the Golden Domers.

Matt Fortuna: Appreciate the kind words, Ronald. While it is difficult to judge such an amorphous concept, I will say that it is hard to argue the determination that the 2012 team showed in making a run to the BCS title game. Just look at two of its defining moments of the regular season: Goal-line stands on four straight plays against rivals Stanford and USC to clinch big wins. That defense was obviously anchored by NFL players with dominant personalities like Manti Te'o and Kapron Lewis-Moore, and those types of combinations don't just grow on trees. I thought last year's defense did what it could under the circumstances, as the injuries seemed never-ending. But it will be interesting to see how everything comes together this year, when there is a new defensive coordinator, plenty of personnel turnover and not many seniors.




Matt Fortuna: Outside of DaVaris Daniels, I'll say Corey Robinson steps up with a big sophomore year. He showed plenty of signs down the stretch last season and has now been in the program for consecutive springs, which should help him fill out his frame. His length allows him to get to balls that few others on the roster can, and the coaches absolutely love his attitude. One guy who often gets overlooked in this conversation is Ben Koyack, who is obviously a tight end but should see much more action come his way with Troy Niklas out of the picture. Koyack stepped up in the second half of 2013, catching nine passes for 152 yards and two touchdowns during the Irish's final six games. That has not gone unnoticed outside of the program, with plenty of preseason hype coming his way via watch lists and All-America teams. If we know anything about Notre Dame tight ends in recent years, it is that they will be used in the passing game often. And 2014 is the senior Koyack's time to shine.




Chris Tanner
Courtesy of Chris TannerNotre Dame fan Chris Tanner visited Doak Campbell Stadium on the FSU campus.
Chris Tanner writes: On traveling back from Florida, we made a stop in Tallahassee. I wanted Irish Nation to start getting excited for October 18th as it’s only 102 days away. Attached is the picture we took outside the stadium next to a statue whose phrase “Unconquered” can easily be revised with a simple place of a vehicle.

Matt Fortuna: Funny stuff, Chris. I'm loving the photo submissions. Keep them coming, fans.

Irish lunch links: ND vs. SEC

July, 9, 2014
Jul 9
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Notre Dame's upcoming series with Georgia in 2017 and 2019 is a huge national matchup that will also mark the Irish's first regular-season meeting with an SEC opponent since 2005, when they played Tennessee.

Why is this notable? The Irish have played current SEC teams only 44 times, according to the Elkhart Truth's Rachel Terlep, which is far less than the school's matchups against the Big Ten (376), the ACC (193) and the Pac-12 (147).

Notre Dame is 26-18 against current SEC teams, though it is just 3-5 against the league in bowl games.

Terlep has more interesting notes surrounding the Irish's history with SEC history here.

Elsewhere …
Will Mahone is no longer enrolled at Notre Dame, but the South Bend Tribune's Bob Wieneke reports that the receiver would like to return to the school, quoting Mahone's attorney, James Gentile, as saying that Mahone believes he is not allowed to go back to Notre Dame as long as felony charges against him are pending.
“That’s what the school has told him,” Gentile said. “If for some reason those felonies are reduced or something happens, then he’s free to reapply.”

The report says that Mahone was in Mahoning County Court for a pre-trial hearing Monday at which a July 23 preliminary hearing was set. Mahone entered not guilty pleas on the misdemeanor charges against him, and he is not required to enter a plea on the felony charges until after the preliminary hearing.
“He’s working hard. He’s doing a lot of things to straighten himself out. He’s working hard on himself right now,” Gentile said. “He’s trying to understand what happened here and why it happened and maybe address some of the issues. That’s what he’s trying to do.”

As for the rest of your Irish links ...
BlueandGold.com's Dan Murphy takes a nice look this week at how Notre Dame is embracing technology to find better ways to train and recover. Murphy spends time with Brian Kelly's consigliere, strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo, who shows off some of the new toys he gets to work with as part of the Irish's investment in the next weapon of the college football arms race.

One of those, EliteForm, is a digital system that less than a dozen colleges are currently using, according to the article. The short of it: Players check in, see the goals awaiting them in the weight room that day, then afterward get to see the speed at which they did each rep.

Our David Hale did a similar story two weeks ago looking at Florida State, which utilized GPS technology all the way to the national title last season.

Murphy's story is behind a pay wall, but the story shows some great statistics illustrating just how thin the margin for error really is in a season — namely, how much closer 2011 was to being a great year for Notre Dame and how the 2012 squad narrowly avoided a campaign like the 2011 one.

Elsewhere in the land of the Irish ...
College football guru Phil Steele last week released his combined 2014 experience chart, which uses a formula that breaks down returning two-deep players in order to rank teams by their returning experience.

In what is probably a surprising number to many, Notre Dame comes in at No. 120 out of 128.

Now, we all know that the Irish have a lot to replace on the defensive side of the ball, where, depending on your formula, they are breaking in roughly six new starters. Offensively, too, there will be new faces in the receiving corps and, technically, under center, as Everett Golson returns after a one-season absence.

It is important to take a closer look at this formula in order to understand Notre Dame's ranking. Steele takes into account seniors who are starters and in the two-deep. The Irish do not have many of those. (And the ones that they do have are mostly redshirt juniors with another year of eligibility remaining in 2015.)

As starters, there's Golson, Cam McDaniel, DaVaris Daniels, Ben Koyack, Nick Martin and Christian Lombard on offense. And there's Ishaq Williams, Joe Schmidt and Austin Collinsworth on defense.

Four of those aforementioned players -- Golson, Daniels, Martin and Schmidt -- have eligibility remaining beyond this season. The other five don't, and Steele goes with that number in listing five senior starters for the Irish.

Other factors that Steele weighs include percentage of lettermen returning, percentage of returning offensive yards, percentage of tackles returning and returning starts on the offensive line. He goes further in-depth with these categories in his magazine.

For comparison's sake, Notre Dame ranked 65th going into the 2013 season, 65th going into 2012, 27th going into 2011, 105th going into 2010 and 17th going into 2009, which was the first year Steele used this formula.

Of course, experience does not always tell the story. Looking for promise down the list in recent years?
  • Stanford entered 2012 at 109th and won the Rose Bowl, while Northern Illinois entered at 113th and made the Orange Bowl.
  • USC entered 2011 at 102nd and went 10-2. (The Trojans were serving a bowl ban.)
  • Georgia Tech entered 2009 at 112th and made the Orange Bowl, while Boise State entered at 119th (out of 120) and ran the table, winning the Fiesta Bowl.

Notre Dame mailblog

June, 6, 2014
Jun 6
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What's happening, gang?

Mike S. from Chicago writes: Hi again Matt! Lots of people doing season W/L predictions already, and looking at the schedule there seem to be some expected tough games. Is there a team on the schedule that is especially underrated and could be a *surprisingly* tough game for the Irish? Michigan, Stanford, FSU and one or two others we know will be tough. Curious if you think there's an under-the-radar team though. Thanks!

[+] EnlargeVenric Mark
Dave Stephenson/Icon SMIVenric Mark and Northwestern could be a challenge for Notre Dame in November.
Matt Fortuna: Hey Mike, I'm not ready to make a win-loss prediction this early in the game, but I think you can make a case for really any team on the Fighting Irish's schedule this season to be surprisingly good, outside of the obvious ones that you mentioned (plus USC). North Carolina is a popular pick to win the ACC's Coastal Division. Louisville has had a lot of recent success but is stepping up in competition with a new staff and new quarterback. Arizona State is always a tough out. Syracuse will be better in Year 2 of the Scott Shafer era and has a quarterback to build around in Terrel Hunt. But the one opponent that I think is really getting overlooked is Northwestern. The Wildcats have been consistently strong in recent years under Pat Fitzgerald and definitely enter this season with a chip on their shoulder after the way things ended last year. (A year that was riddled by key injuries, too.) I covered Northwestern's game against Ohio State last season and the Cats were a play away from giving the Buckeyes their first loss of the Urban Meyer era. They are good, and they travel to South Bend, Ind., at what could be a vulnerable time for the Irish, given the tough November stretch they finish with (Navy, at ASU, Northwestern, Louisville, at USC). Purdue usually plays the Irish tough, too. (And heck, even Rice is coming off a 10-win season.)

Chris from Canada writes: Outside of the experience, what are the key differences between Zaire and Golson? They seem very similar in what they have to offer. Is it realistic to think that Zaire can beat out Golson this year or is the "QB competition" just for show?

Matt Fortuna: Chris, they are of a similar build and skill-set, though I think Everett Golson probably has the better arm and is more mobile. Whether that translates into a big gap on the field remains to be seen. As you said, Golson has the experience factor, but Malik Zaire is sure to give him a push, enough so that I think the Irish will be comfortable putting him in a game at any point, something that we know Brian Kelly is not afraid to do with his quarterbacks. Zaire certainly carries himself publicly like a guy who is not afraid of a challenge, and like a guy who expects to win the job if he plays the way he thinks he's capable of playing. My guy Adam Kramer thinks the Irish have the best depth at the position in the country. I'm not sure I'm ready to go that far just yet, but the quarterback position is certainly a luxury for Notre Dame at this point, something that has not been said before in the Kelly era.

Chris Kosiak (via Twitter): (Who is) the under-the-radar guy that everyone will love by seasons end?

Matt Fortuna: What, Cam McDaniel last year wasn't enough for you guys? (I kid, I kid.) I'd say Joe Schmidt, but his value has been pretty well-documented this spring. I'll go with Jarron Jones. It took him some time, but he really came around down the stretch last season. After being demoted to the scout team during USC week because of his academic and football shortcomings, Jones stepped up when the defense became decimated by injuries, blocking a kick on Senior Day against BYU and tallying seven tackles before getting the start at Stanford a week later. He spoke openly about how much more comfortable he is in Brian VanGorder's system, and the opportunities will be there for Jones to make a name for himself on a thin defensive line.
video The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: Notre Dame’s recruiting efforts for 2015 suffered a major setback when ESPN 300 quarterback Blake Barnett decommitted. So where do the Irish turn now at the quarterback spot? Plus, could Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas’ loss be Arkansas’ gain?

Another double dip? Why not ...

Week 13 schedule

Thursday, Nov. 20
  • North Carolina at Duke, ESPN, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 22
  • Boston College at Florida State
  • Virginia Tech at Wake Forest
  • Syracuse at Pitt
  • Georgia State at Clemson
  • Miami at Virginia
  • Louisville at Notre Dame
Our pick: North Carolina at Duke AND Louisville at Notre Dame

Why you should come along: Another Thursday night game presents another opportunity for us to take in multiple games in a weekend ... and this one should be particularly good. Two of the Coastal Division's expected title contenders square off, and plenty will be on the line. Duke has won the last two matchups against its rival down Tobacco Road, the first time the Blue Devils have posted a winning streak against North Carolina since 1987-89. Both of Duke's wins the previous two years were absolute thrillers, as it clinched bowl-eligibility with the win in 2012 and picked off the Tar Heels late on the road in last season's regular-season finale, clinching win No. 10, the division crown and stopping the Tar Heels' five-game winning streak in the process.

On Saturday, we'll visit Touchdown Jesus in South Bend, Ind., to check out Notre Dame Stadium's new FieldTurf and watch Louisville and the Irish run all over it on Senior Day. This is the ACC's fourth and final game of the season against Notre Dame, and it might be our best chance to check out the Golden Dome in the first year of this scheduling agreement, which I highly recommend you do if the chance presents itself. The Irish enter 2014 with plenty of questions on defense after suffering major personnel losses, but they welcome back quarterback Everett Golson, who went undefeated during his only regular season under center, in 2012. Golson, fresh off a suspension and an autumn spent working out with George Whitfield Jr., should have the Irish offense looking more like the one his coach, Brian Kelly, had at Cincinnati. And we all know the fireworks that a Bobby Petrino offense is capable of putting on display. These coaches missed each other by a year in the Keg of Nails rivalry in the old Big East. The late-fall weather elements could try to slow these two teams down, but I'll take my chances. (Especially if it means one last postgame meal at Parisi's, just off the south end of campus.)
OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. -- DaVaris Daniels' return to Notre Dame could come as soon as Thursday, coach Brian Kelly said. If and when Daniels makes his way back to the Irish, Kelly hopes the light has clicked on for the wide receiver as he enters the most important stage of his college career.

[+] EnlargeDaniels
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsNotre Dame is waiting for word on the status of DaVaris Daniels, who had 49 catches for 745 yards and seven TDs in 2013.
"I don't ever take for granted that those issues of maturity are behind any of our guys," Kelly, speaking Thursday before a golf outing outside Chicago, said with a laugh. "I mean, it's going to be a work-in-progress for him. There's no question that Double D, he's a smart kid, that he knows that this is, he's on the clock now, you know? He's got to walk the line, he's got to do things the right way. It's not just Notre Dame; it's his career, it's everything now. So I think he knows that all eyes are on him."

Kelly said that the school's readmission board was meeting Thursday to determine the future of Daniels, who was suspended from school for the spring semester because of an academic issue. With Notre Dame's final exams having taken place last week — and with Daniels being the second player to get suspended for academic reasons in 2013, after Everett Golson following last spring — Kelly also said that, to the best of his knowledge, everyone on the team is in good academic standing.

If he's back, Daniels would immediately become the top returning target for Notre Dame, and he would be the only one who has extensive experience with Golson.

Daniels had 49 catches for 745 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013, each number ranking second on the Irish behind TJ Jones. For his career, Daniels has caught 80 passes for 1,235 yards and seven touchdowns.

The burden of carrying a green receiving corps is a task that Kelly thinks Daniels is up to, and he hopes that the redshirt junior has matured in his time away from the program these past four months.

"It depends on how you look at that, right? It's good and bad," Kelly said of the burden awaiting Daniels. "I just really think he's got to be a man and step up and take care of his business. Look, we all know, you guys watch, you guys know football as well as anybody -- he's immensely talented. He's got to have his foot on the pedal all the time. And if he does, he's as good as anybody out there, that I've coached.

"But there's only so many times you can go to the whip. And this is proof-positive, right? Sooner or later, you've got to do it. And I think this hopefully is that time where he goes, 'I've got to be cognizant of the fact that I've got a lot riding on this. I've got to be that guy every single down.'"

Notre Dame spring wrap

April, 29, 2014
Apr 29
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Three things we learned in the spring
  • The QB rotation is stable: Everett Golson is back from his 2013 suspension, hardened and bigger than ever. And Malik Zaire has taken full advantage of the opportunity Brian Kelly has given him, after Kelly declared the job open. (Notre Dame had just two scholarship quarterbacks this spring.) While few expect Golson to relinquish his hold on the starting role, the prospect of a hungry, capable backup has to make new QBs coach Matt LaFleur happy.
  • Greg Bryant looks like a playmaker: A rough start to Bryant's career last year might have been a blessing in disguise, as knee tendinitis allowed him to redshirt and essentially get a do-over in 2014. The returns this spring have been phenomenal, with the No. 2 running back prospect from the Class of 2013 bringing a burst to the run game that was absent last season. He turned heads in the spring game and says he is carrying a more mature head on his shoulders after last season, as he's hungry to get back on the field and make plays.
  • The secondary is primed to breakout: Notre Dame does not lack for bodies among its defensive backs. KeiVarae Russell enters his third year of starting ready to be one of the nation's top corners, and the Irish return four safeties with starting experience -- one of whom, Matthias Farley, moved to nickelback this spring. Throw in Florida transfer Cody Riggs at corner this summer -- as well as the aggressive approach of new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who will bring more press coverage -- and the secondary has all of the ingredients to be very good in 2014.
Three questions for the fall
  • Where will the pass-rush come from? The Irish said goodbye to Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt, two linemen who made their living in opposing backfields. There are simply no big, athletic bodies like them on this year's roster. With a revamped front-seven, VanGorder will be tasked with finding new ways to generate pressure on the quarterback. Perhaps senior Ishaq Williams, now primarily at end, can add a boost to the line.
  • Which receivers will step up? With DaVaris Daniels (academics) gone this spring, it was essentially an open audition for Irish receivers, only two of whom had ever caught balls from Golson before (Chris Brown and tight end Ben Koyack). Corey Robinson has continued his growth after a promising freshman campaign, and Koyack will have to emerge as a bigger receiving threat after handling mostly blocking duties next to the departed Troy Niklas. Daniels' expected return this summer will provide a major boost to this group.
  • Will special teams play finally improve? Few areas have given Notre Dame trouble in recent years the way special teams has, particularly the punt return game. Awful weather this spring limited outdoor work, which limited ideal return opportunities. Bryant could emerge as the guy at punt return, though Tarean Folston and Torii Hunter Jr. may contend for chances as well.
One way-too-early prediction

Notre Dame will average better than 30 points per game for the first time in the Kelly era. In Golson, the Irish have the ideal quarterback in place to run the Kelly offense. And with the defense taking massive personnel hits up front while adjusting to a new scheme, the offense will be relied on more than ever to stretch the field, carry the load and put points on the board.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The news of Notre Dame Stadium replacing its playing surface was met in the locker room with nearly unanimous approval. The players, of course, are the ones who are affected most by such a decision. Take KeiVarae Russell, a cornerback who must rely on the ground beneath him as much as anyone else on the field.

"We played USC last year -- that field was terrible. Oh-my-God," the outspoken junior cracked. "I'm excited."

Added quarterback Everett Golson, who was sacked at least once in Saturday's spring game because he lost his footing: "It's nice. It's nice. Because I came from FieldTurf, even in high school. So it's going to be a joy, man."

But the decision was hardly that simple, given the history and tradition that follows the Irish football program at nearly every turn. Athletic director Jack Swarbrick, a 1976 graduate of the school, knew this better than most, which is why he spent much of the last two months explaining to others in leadership positions at the school why he decided that the move from natural grass to FieldTurf was the best way to go for the future.

Swarbrick arrived at the decision in late February. He said that the underwhelming surface that the Blue-Gold game was played on reflected the best condition maintenance could possibly get the field in for game time. Notre Dame replaced its surface four times last year, he said -- after commencement, in July and twice in the season.

"It's probably more a personal preference than sort of an athletic department preference," Swarbrick said of natural grass. "I like it. I'm an alum here. It's part of the dynamic of the place, and so I was inclined to say, Can we do it? And some of the other iconic stadiums have held onto it: Green Bay, the Rose Bowl. And so both of those things played a role. But we just couldn't get ourselves there."

Swarbrick said there have yet to be discussions about any possible logos or marks on the field, but that he would not anticipate any major changes. The FieldTurf's color, for the curious eccentrics out there, will be green.

The news, along with the winter announcement of the Campus Crossroads Project to expand the stadium's use, could result in more non-football events, with Swarbrick specifically mentioning a hockey game.

"Everybody is in agreement; if we can get the best surface there and grass, we'd love to have that," coach Brian Kelly said after the spring game. "We just haven't been able to get to that. This is my fifth year here at Notre Dame and we haven't been able to get to that. This is the best option available to us, and I'm happy that Jack Swarbrick, our athletic director, our administration, has acted and we are going to have that playing field in place for the fall so we don't have to have those concerns going into 2014."

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Brian Kelly moved swiftly up to the post-game podium, joking with the assembled media members that everyone better hurry up so they could get back to watching the Masters. Kelly played the famed course at Augusta National last month as part of a foursome with Tom Brady, Josh McDaniels and Notre Dame alumnus Jimmy Dunne, who put the group together.

Saturday's Blue-Gold spring game -- otherwise known as "Natural Grass: The Finale" -- could not have been farther away from the Peach State. But it probably served a somewhat therapeutic purpose for the Fighting Irish head coach for the first time since he arrived here in 2010.

[+] EnlargeMalik Zaire
AP Photo/Joe RaymondMalik Zaire showed poise and big-play ability in Saturday's spring game, showing that there's more than one capable Notre Dame quarterback.
Yes, there were questions about the quarterback play, because there always are at Notre Dame. No, Kelly said he has no plans on naming a starter sometime before camp. And while anyone but Everett Golson being named the main man would qualify among the biggest shocks of Kelly's tenure, Kelly can rest easy knowing that he likely has a capable and confident second arm to turn to in the event he needs one. And, let's face it, he has almost always needed one.

Golson looked uneven at times but is slowly easing his way back into the offense. Malik Zaire, meanwhile, backed up all of his bold spring talk and made all of the big plays in the "Blue" team's (offense) 63-58 win over the "Gold" team (defense).

The redshirt freshman completed 18 of 27 passes for 292 yards and two scores. Golson completed 13 of 23 passes for 160 yards. Both players seem more than capable of running the offense Kelly would like, which explains why he made it clear afterward that he prefers just one man atop the depth chart.

"We should be as coaches and myself, personally, I should be able to figure this thing out, and we should be able to get our players in a position where we can have a starting quarterback," Kelly said.

"So I've been doing it long enough that I would hope that I can figure it out come time to play Rice."

Kelly had said earlier in the week that he threw everything at the quarterbacks this spring -- in part to see what they could handle, in part to accelerate the growth of a young defense under a new coordinator.

The learning curve, though, will be quicker for the offense this season, with the low-scoring games of recent years likely becoming as ancient as the natural grass his stadium is leaving behind. And that's a byproduct of more dynamic play under center.

"We have to be more proficient offensively," Kelly said. "We have to put points on the board that we have not been able to consistently do against the best teams in the country. So that's certainly been the focus, and it will have to be this fall again playing the kind of schedule we do. We can't go down to Florida State and hope to win 10 to 7. We're going to have to put some points on board."

Much of that will depend on Golson's acclimation with a new supporting cast. He is 15 pounds heavier, more mature after returning from suspension and, presumably, a smarter signal caller after spending the fall with George Whitfield Jr.

Having someone with the talent and attitude of Zaire behind him should only make him better -- which, indirectly, is exactly what the lefty wants to hear.

"My mindset doesn't change at all: Whether I'm declared the starter or whether I'm the backup or whatever the situation is," Zaire said. "Because in my mind, I'm always looking just to get better every day and whatever it takes for this team to win a lot of games, I'm willing to do that. So I'm always working as if nobody's giving me a chance. I think that's what's really my backing in it.

"I feel like not enough people are giving me that chance and that opportunity, that's my personal belief. So as long as I keep believing that and working my butt off and try to be the best I can be for this team, then that's all I can ask for."

That might be all the Irish can ask for after 15 spring practices, as they are better off at the game's most important position moving forward.

"It's competition," Golson said. "There's no animosity toward him, but there's definitely competition, and I'm open to it and ready for it."
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- A new defensive coordinator and upward of six new starters on that side of the ball have helped present a fair amount of challenges for Notre Dame this spring. And not just for the defense.

Brian Kelly has thrown the book at his quarterbacks this past month, creating confusion for Everett Golson and Malik Zaire as they try to accelerate the growth of an offense expected to lead the charge for a relatively young team. And while the results have been uneven at times, Kelly has been pleased with his signal-callers' frames of mind with Saturday's Blue-Gold game approaching.

"Most would not allow it to go the way I have, and I mean, it would be much more controlled," Kelly said. "I allow it to happen at will. I want our quarterbacks to see it all. They have seen more exotics, they have seen more things than they (will see) next year at any one time.

"It’s difficult. It’s really hard, but I’d rather have it be difficult so when I go into that meeting, we have great meetings and you can teach off it, learn off it and get better. Our quarterbacks understand that."

Call it a byproduct of 24 years of quarterback development, or perhaps a reality about the shorter learning curve with defense that Kelly stated three years ago after hauling in his first full recruiting class, when he said you can't "fake" it on defense.

The fifth-year Irish head coach would rather overload his offense while he can this spring and ask questions later, for the unit's margin of error may simply just be bigger given all of the moving parts with the retooled defense.

"You have to keep in mind: We graded out quarterbacks the other day and nobody had a 2.0 cumulative, OK?" Kelly said. "And the quarterbacks agreed with that grade. They agreed. We had a number of categories we graded and a lot of it is because they were taking 500-level classes. It wasn’t easy stuff for them. The great point about it is they see that as well that they have a lot of work to do. Malik hasn’t played yet. Everett played but you saw how we ran the offense with Everett. It took him a few games and Tommy (Rees) helped us with some games. The defense did a great job of winning games for us and (Golson) didn’t play last year. So he’s still learning too. It’s been great teaching and (Brian VanGorder has) helped us a lot with what he’s doing."

Whether that means outcomes this fall more in line with Kelly's Cincinnati days than his teams' tractor-pulls of recent years remains to be seen, but his quarterbacks are invigorated by the challenge.

"The defense, I think they’re pretty aggressive with their blitzing and stuff like that and I think we have to be aggressive as well on offense," Golson said. "It’s an opportunity for us to be really special."

Irish lunch links

April, 8, 2014
Apr 8
12:00
PM ET
Does UConn win it again tonight? Or do the Irish get it done?

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ESPN 300 athlete Porter Gustin (Salem, Utah/Salem Hills) took time out to talk recruiting and more with WeAreSC's Garry Paskwietz on Tuesday at The Opening.
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