It took four seasons, but the stars have finally aligned for Brian Kelly at quarterback. With the addition of DeShone Kizer to the program, the depth chart at the most important position on the Notre Dame roster will finally be to the head coach's optimal design.
Everett Golson has returned from academic suspension, likely returning to the starting lineup after leading the Irish to the BCS title game in 2012. Malik Zaire will take the red shirt off, competing with Golson this spring now that his path is cleared after Andrew Hendrix decided to spend his fifth year with Chuck Martin at Miami (Ohio).
While Kizer won't be on campus until the summer, the Irish will head into the fall with three quarterbacks that can play the type of offense Kelly always planned to bring to South Bend.
Kelly expressed this sentiment during his signing day press conference.
"Now we've got three quarterbacks on campus that all do the same things. You don't have to adjust your offense. All three of the quarterbacks, we finally all do the same things," he said.
For as quickly as Kelly brought the Irish program back to relevance, he's struggled to get the quarterback position right. It's worth pointing out that he inherited a mess, with Dayne Crist recovering from ACL surgery and early-entry freshman Tommy Rees—a recruit many thought would only provide much-needed depth throughout his career at Notre Dame—as the only scholarship quarterbacks on the roster.
However, Rees turned out to be the lone survivor of the group.
Crist suffered another major knee injury before finishing his eligibility with Charlie Weis in Kansas. After watching Golson lead the Irish to the BCS title game, Gunner Kiel headed for Cincinnati, only to see Golson forced out.
With Hendrix departing and Golson back, it took four seasons, but finally Kelly feels confident that he's got the type of player he wants behind center.
"It starts with the quarterback, and his ability to be a playmaker within the offense," Kelly said in a press conference announcing the hires of offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock and quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur. "At times, we really haven't been able to craft it to fit a player behind the center, and I think what I'm looking for in particular is somebody that can make some things happen outside the pocket.
"We have been driven behind the tackles for the last couple of years. We would like to be a little bit more dynamic outside the pocket," he added.
The commitment of 2015 prospect Blake Barnett, the first invitee to the Elite 11 camp—an early prognosticator for the top recruits at the position—gives you an idea of how the position could play out well into the future.
At an early glance, Barnett looks to bring the best of both worlds to South Bend: athleticism and speed that surpass those of Golson and Zaire with the size and arm strength to rival Kiel's.
Don't expect anybody on the Irish coaching staff to look into the future, though, with Kelly unwilling to commit to the present.
His first order of business was pumping the brakes on the idea that the starting job goes back to Golson by default. With LaFleur starting from scratch this spring, Kelly said he plans on having Zaire compete with Golson every step of the way.
I love Everett, he played in the national championship game, I'm like everybody here, but I'm also someone that wants to make sure that the quarterback position is such, especially with Matt now with us, that we give every an opportunity to compete for that position and Malik is going to get that chance as well.
If there's a spirited competition this spring at quarterback, nobody will be happier than the head coach, as it'll mean Zaire has the makings of a future star as well. With Kizer pushing next season and Barnett a year behind, the quarterback famine appears to be over.
A new position coach. An offense transitioning back to the type of attack we saw in Cincinnati. It's a new era of offense at Notre Dame.
Now we'll have to see if the quarterbacks can lead the renaissance.