Notre Dame Football: Why Gunner Kiel Has Most to Prove in Spring Practice

Randy ChambersAnalyst IFebruary 19, 2013

Apr. 21, 2012; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Gunner Kiel (5) throws in the fourth quarter of the spring game at Notre Dame Stadium. Kiel wore the number five jersey in honor of his uncle and former quarterback Blair Kiel who died on April 8, 2012. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Unlike last season, there really isn't much of an open quarterback competition entering spring practice for Notre Dame. Everett Golson has been penciled in as the starter and unless Gunner Kiel can become the next Joe Montana, Golson will remain the guy to lead the offense heading into the season opener.

This is why Kiel has more pressure to succeed than any other player who will be suiting up in a Notre Dame uniform this spring. He either tanks and spends another season holding a clipboard on the sidelines, or he plays the way he is capable of and provides a little bit of drama in South Bend.

Kiel took a redshirt last season, but even then, the hype has died down around him so much that many are questioning what happened to the 5-star recruit.

Is he going to transfer to a school that isn't so loaded at the quarterback position? Will he stay on the Notre Dame roster and become one of the biggest busts in recent recruiting history? 

A lot of those questions and more will be answered this spring.

Kiel was one of the top recruits of the 2012 class and was to be considered that elite quarterback prospect that only comes around every few years. After his subpar performance in last year’s spring game and the emergence of Golson, Irish fans everywhere are starting to question if they even need Kiel around to be a championship contender.

After all, Notre Dame reached the big game last season and that was with Golson in his first year—he can only get better with time, right?

Many look at the Blue and Gold game from a year ago and say that Kiel has a lot of work to do before becoming the starter. Sure, he made a few bad reads with the football and sometimes ran when he didn't need to. But this was a kid that was fresh out of high school, not familiar with the playbook at all and he still looked better than most first-year players at the position.  

He displayed his above-average arm strength, moved around the pocket well and he showed that while he may not be as athletic as Golson, he can run this Notre Dame spread offense by making plays with his feet.

Also, it is important to remember that this kid was practically thrown into the lion’s den, as he was just winging it on the field considering he didn't know much of anything just a few months removed from high school. 

This is something that has obviously improved with a year in the system, as Kiel told Irish Illustrated, via Tim O'Malley of

Coming in last year early and learning the offense was hard. Kiel told as he sat in the front row at Sun Life Stadium in Miami last Monday. I didn't really understand much of anything, I didn't really understand the signals. So in December (last month), where we had (practice) time and they kind of threw us back in, I finally knew and understood the plays more. It made me feel more confident.

Kiel has the arm strength, the accuracy and is more than capable of hurting defenses with his legs when he needs to. Some will continue to question if a true pocket passer can run a Brian Kelly-type spread offense, but the better quarterback is going to be named the starter at the end of the day. It doesn't matter if he is a perfect fit for the system or not, the guy leading the team on Saturdays will be the one who gives the team the best overall chance to win games.

Golson has shown flashes of being great at times and has the upside to become even better over time. Kiel on the other hand also has the upside and is more of a traditional quarterback that can make all of the throws you ask of him. Whoever is less shaky in their performances and who has more command of the offense will win the job.  

There isn't much talk about a quarterback battle taking place, but Kiel has the power to change that with a solid showing during the next couple of months.