Notre Dame Football: Why Malik Zaire Should Be Irish's Starting Quarterback

Connor KillorenSenior Analyst IJune 6, 2013

Apr 20, 2013; Notre Dame, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Malik Zaire (8) slides in the third quarter of the Blue-Gold Game at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Unlike the past two summers, there won't be any drama surrounding the starting quarterback position at Notre Dame this year. 

At least not for now. 

During a speaking engagement in Grand Rapids, Mich., Wednesday evening, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly quashed the potential of a quarterback controversy before it could truly even begin. 

We always move forward. I don't live in the past, and I don't spend too much time in the future. I live in the present, and in the present, we have Tommy Rees. We have Tommy Rees, who is an established player, and he will be our starter. We think Andrew Hendrix and Malik Zaire can contribute, but Tommy will be our starter.

If Rees does indeed take the season's first snap against Temple on Aug. 31 at Notre Dame Stadium, it would be the senior's 19th career start dating back to 2010—Kelly's inaugural season at Notre Dame. 

But there's more to Kelly's statement than meets the eye. 

By mentioning Hendrix and Zaire's ability to "contribute," the fourth-year head coach is insinuating that both will see the field this season. Yet the capacity at which either would participate is unknown. 

The simple truth is that Rees' physical limitations, particularly his lack of mobility, hinders the Irish offense. Now, that isn't to say Kelly's offense requires a mobile quarterback, but the possibilities multiply exponentially with a quarterback who poses a threat to move the chains with his feet. 

And that's where Kelly's comments become increasingly complex. 

Will he be content with Rees operating the spread offense? The answer to that question is a resounding "no." 

Kelly understands and recognizes the need for Hendrix and Zaire to play due to their ability to stretch defenses. That admission poses yet another flustering question that Kelly must answer prior to the season opener. 

Because of his affinity for Rees and apparent respect for Hendrix's abilities, why play Zaire in a limited role and burn a valuable redshirt season in the process? I'm no football coach, but even I'm smart enough to recognize the importance and significance of a redshirt season for a true freshman quarterback. 

If you disagree with me, please note that last season's Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Manziel, redshirted as a true freshman at Texas A&M. 

That's not to say starting a true freshman at quarterback is an automatic mistake, but a redshirt season only produces positive results for a quarterback in football terms. 

But because Kelly didn't rule out the possibility of Zaire possibly usurping Rees at some point during the 2013 season, that exact scenario may just play out. This leads me to believe Kelly anointed Rees the starter simply to remove the burden of expectations from Zaire. 

Easing Zaire into the starting role is the most effective manner in which to approach the scenario Kelly finds himself in. 

The other aspect to consider is the possibility of former starting quarterback Everett Golson returning to Notre Dame. 

No guarantee exists that Golson will return, forcing Kelly to be mindful of the future of a program that will be without the services of Rees next season. Hendrix is a candidate for a fifth year, but has stated his desire to attend medical school, meaning he likely won't be back in 2014. 

For conversation's sake, let's say Golson doesn't return and Hendrix enrolls in medical school. 

That would leave Notre Dame with one scholarship quarterback on the roster in Zaire. Kelly is likely to sign one, or possibly two, quarterbacks in the 2014 recruiting class, but experience at the position would be alarmingly lacking. 

So wouldn't the wise decision be for Kelly to offer Zaire the most experience possible this season to ensure he has at least one seasoned quarterback on the depth chart entering 2014? 

The resounding answer should be "yes." 

For now, any discussion of Zaire becoming the Irish's starter is purely speculation—but it's educated speculation.