Notre Dame Football: Spring Practice Preview of the Irish's Quarterbacks
In the fourth installment of an eight-part spring practice series, I'll present a detailed look at Notre Dame's quarterbacks.
During head coach Brian Kelly's first two seasons under the golden dome, the Irish didn't enjoy the luxury of an established, successful starting quarterback, resulting in offseasons abuzz with heated, fervent discussions of who should be anointed as the driver of Kelly's offense.
Similar debates bled into last summer, with fans clamoring for redshirt freshman Everett Golson to be handed the keys, which eventually occurred one week prior to the Irish's season-opening 50-10 victory against Navy in Dublin, Ireland.
I'll begin with the incumbent starter.
Golson took his lumps early on—he replaced former starter Tommy Rees early in the second quarter of an eventual 13-6 victory against Michigan on Sept. 22—but eventually locked up the job, finishing the 2012 season with 2,405 passing yards, 18 total touchdowns and six interceptions.
What made the Myrtle Beach, S.C., native such an attractive candidate to win the Irish's starting job in the eyes of the fans was his athleticism—specifically his mobility—that would allow him to extend plays and pick up yards with his feet when necessary.
Golson displayed that versatility, finishing the season with 298 rushing yards.
However, what should be noted about Golson as a rusher is that he quickly adopted the philosophy of being a pass-first quarterback who only utilizes his athleticism when absolutely necessary.
The area in which the 6'0", 185-pound quarterback needs improvement is his consistency and accuracy as a passer, having completed just 58.8 percent of his passes last season.
It has been quite a ride for Rees during his career at Notre Dame.
When starter Dayne Crist was lost for the remainder of the 2010 season during the first half of an eventual 28-27 loss to Tulsa at Notre Dame Stadium, Rees replaced him and set the Irish's record for most passing attempts for a freshman in a single game with 54.
Rees then led the Irish to four consecutive victories to end the season.
2011 saw an eerily similar circumstance play out, as Rees replaced Crist, though this time for poor play on Crist's part.
Rees' downfall was that he was only playing to the level of a backup quarterback. The Lake Forest, Ill., native's lack of mobility and penchant for committing momentum-killing turnovers, as well as a run-in with the police at an off-campus party, cost him the starting job.
Now that Gunner Kiel has left the program, the backup quarterback position has likely fallen into Rees' hands.
A former standout quarterback at Moeller High School in Cincinnati, Hendrix was rated as a 4-star talent by Rivals.com who committed to the Charlie Weis regime, but remained committed following Kelly's hiring.
His billing as a high-profile quarterback never quite panned out, as Hendrix has sat behind the likes of Crist, Rees and Golson during his three years at Notre Dame.
Hendrix's one shining moment transpired on Oct. 8, 2011, during a 59-33 Notre Dame victory against Air Force, when the 6'2", 220-pound quarterback took off on a 78-yard run to the Falcons' two-yard line in garbage time.
Unfortunately for Hendrix, phrases such as "garbage time" and "mop-up duty" are likely to be associated with his name for the time he has remaining at Notre Dame.
Zaire, a former 4-star prospect out of Archbishop Alter High School in Kettering, Ohio, is currently in the throes of spring practices as an early enrollee, as Kiel was one year ago.
While Kiel was still a member of the Irish roster, Zaire redshirting in 2013 was a foregone conclusion, but Kiel's departure from the program has infused some doubt in whether or not that will happen.
Zaire already possesses a college-ready body, standing at 6'0" and 196 pounds, but the mental aspect of the game is what will be a limitation, as with any true freshman quarterback.
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