Notre Dame Recruiting: Gunner Kiel Won't Be a Savior in His Freshman Season
As details trickled in over Gunner Kiel's commitment to Notre Dame, articles about the young quarterback's switch from LSU to the Fighting Irish poured in.
Some of those articles even inferred that Kiel would be the player to put the Irish over the hump and take them to a BCS game immediately, but rarely were the other quarterbacks even mentioned.
The five-star label brings serious expectations with it, but having success at the college level is a different story. Dayne Crist, Notre Dame's last five-star player at the position, went through a series of tribulations before transferring. He will play at Kansas with former Irish coach, Charlie Weis, for the upcoming season.
If Kiel can grasp the system, he will likely be the starter for Notre Dame one day. It is when he starts that is the real question.
It's doubtful that Kiel will be the immediate answer at his position, and those who pontificate about Kiel's importance to the team overlook one vital factor—the other quarterbacks currently on the roster.
Although he has slowly fallen out of favor with most Irish fans, Tommy Rees has the most experience by far of any quarterback on the team. However, after a series of late season losses and poor play, it is looking more and more like Rees will be a backup for the rest of his career. Still, Kelly is most comfortable with Rees running the team. But with the current talent at the position, that could change by the start of next season.
Rees' role doesn't hinge solely upon Kiel. Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson will both compete for the starting job next season.
Hendrix showed that he is a great fit for Brian Kelly's system. While Hendrix did struggle at times, he also showed his unlimited potential.
Hendrix's problems related to his arm, not his legs. He showed amazing arm strength by rocketing passes downfield and hitting players on 20-yard out routes with ease, but Hendrix constantly overthrew his targets letting the ball sail over receiver's heads. He didn't always make the greatest decisions either.
Hendrix finished the 2011 season with unspectacular numbers. He completed just 18 of his 37 passes (good for an 48.6 completion percentage), and threw one touchdown and two interceptions. The 2011 season was his first getting playing time, and with any first-year player, there is going to be growing pains. Hendrix does have another important facet to his game though.
On the ground, Hendrix was much more impressive. He carried the ball 25 times for 162 yards and scored once (a good chunk of that yardage came on a 78-yard scamper).
Hendrix left a lot to be desired with his accuracy and in game decisions, but he is a better athlete than Rees or Kiel. If Hendrix can improve his throwing mechanics and decision-making (and both come with time), then he should get another chance to show what he can do.
As the other quarterbacks struggled throughout the season (especially in the Champs Sports Bowl), Golson's body language on the sideline showed a youngster itching to get in the game. Golson yearned for a chance to play, and it was evident in his demeanor. He didn't mention his malcontent, and he did nothing but cheer on his fellow teammates showing his professionalism.
But Golson's freshman year wasn't a joy ride. He had a difficult start to his career. He had trouble balancing both his classroom and on the field commitments. In fact, Golson wasn't able to excel at either.
Eventually, things started to click for Golson. He realized that he wasn't going to get to play during his freshman year, but he didn't stop trying to make an impact.
He practiced hard every time he stepped out on the field and was named the Scout Team Player of the Year. He got back on track in the classroom as well.
Golson won't be content watching from the sideline this season though, and don't expect him to be unnerved by Kiel's commitment.
Although fans have yet to see him play in college, his high school highlights have brought about quite a bit of excitement. He is a fantastic pocket passer and has great speed. Like Kiel, Golson can also throw ropes on the run.
Kiel has all the tools to succeed at Notre Dame. He is accurate, smart and has a solid arm, but if Brian Kelly doesn't at least see what he has in his other quarterbacks, he could be making a giant mistake.
Coach Kelly shouldn't feel rushed to thrown Kiel into the game just because of his blue-chip status. Not only could it cause one of the current quarterbacks to look at departing, but it probably wouldn't be the best decision for the team's long-term or short-term future.
As the most highly-coveted recruit in the incoming class, Kiel will garner enormous amounts of attention. And rightfully so, because the Indiana product could be an amazing addition to the team. But counting out the other quarterbacks on the team because they didn't have a five-star beside their name out of high school would be a grave injustice to them.
Kiel could lead the Irish to a BCS game one day, but so could the other quarterbacks that currently play for the Fighting Irish.
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