Notre Dame Football: Matt LaFleur Breaks Down QB Position, Golson, Zaire
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — A new quarterbacks coach, a new offensive coordinator, a quarterback returning from suspension and another coming off a freshman season he spent redshirting. From the meeting room to the practice field, it all combines to create a blank slate among the quarterbacks, according to position coach Matt LaFleur.
LaFleur met with the media Wednesday for the first time since his introductory press conference in late January and touched on a variety of subjects.
The Irish are 10 practices into their spring schedule, and the Blue-Gold Spring Game is 10 days away. Let’s take a look at the quarterback position as it stands now through the eyes of LaFleur.
*All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
LaFleur said he doesn’t think it matters at this point for the offense to have the starter determined. The Irish are still in the thick of spring ball, during which the focus has been on individual work, especially for a young and inexperienced team in a lot of ways.
“I think each guy, whether you’re an offensive lineman, receiver, running back, you’re focused on your job,” LaFleur said. “Number one, I tell the quarterbacks, do your job. You’ve gotta do your job before you can even worry about anybody else or any other situation.”
With both Golson and Zaire honing their own crafts, LaFleur said he hasn’t sat down to evaluate them side by side and gauge any separation between the two signal-callers.
“Right now it’s all big picture. I’m not keeping track. I haven’t totaled the numbers in terms of who’s doing what,” LaFleur said. “We’re just trying to get on the same page really more or less as a quarterback room.”
Both Golson and Zaire are certainly on the same page when it comes to the end game. Golson is back after directing Notre Dame to the BCS National Championship Game in 2012, and the senior has taken the majority of first-team reps we’ve seen. Zaire, who redshirted last season, has spoken confidently about angling for the starting job.
“If we don’t have a guy that wants to be the guy, then we’ve got the wrong guy,” LaFleur said of the competitiveness between Golson and Zaire. “So, they better, in my opinion, have that desire to want to be the guy. And they’re going to be competitive. I want them to be competitive because I think it brings out the best in people when there is that competitive spirit in the room.”
Golson and Zaire Progressing
We’ve seen both Golson and Zaire break big plays—through the air or on the ground—during spring practices, but we’ve also seen overthrows, misfires and other mistakes. The miscues are to be expected from a quarterback who hasn’t started a game in 15 months (Golson) and another who hasn’t started since high school (Zaire).
“I just want a consistent level of play,” LaFleur said when asked about what he wants to accomplish this spring. “I want to set a standard for how these quarterbacks are going to operate our offense. It comes back to the whole consistency issue.
“We want to be consistent players out there that are going to be productive and that we’re going to be able to manage and lead this team to a lot of points.”
LaFleur wants consistency in their footwork, and he added their familiarity with the offense is improving as well.
“I think from Practice 1 to Practice 10, there’s been a huge improvement, just in terms of they kind of know what we want and what we expect,” LaFleur said. “It’s just setting the standard.”
With Golson, in particular, LaFleur couldn’t say if he thought the senior was rusty, considering LaFleur is working off a blank slate. But LaFleur did say he has seen marked improvement throughout the 10 practices, primarily with Golson’s consistency with his fundamentals—footwork, timing and decision-making.
One of the emphases for Zaire has been concision, something LaFleur said they’ve been working on every day.
“There’s not a lot of time in between each play,” LaFleur said. “You better be able to communicate quickly with whoever you’re talking to. So that’s been a point of emphasis and I think he has improved. You can’t sit here and write me a book about it, otherwise we’ll have a delay of game.”
Before joining the Irish coaching staff, LaFleur served as the quarterbacks coach of the Washington Redskins for four seasons, the last two of which he spent tutoring former Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, who made the Pro Bowl in his rookie season in Washington.
While LaFleur said he hasn’t repeatedly called on the experience with Griffin as a teaching tool for Golson and Zaire, he did say it’s been a factor. Griffin has thrown for 6,403 yards in his first two NFL seasons, and the 6’2”, 217-pounder has racked up 1,304 rushing yards thus far. In 2012, Golson, who’s now listed at 6’0" and a beefed-up 200 pounds, totaled 298 rushing yards—the most by an Irish quarterback since 2001—and Zaire eclipsed 1,000 yards on the ground in his junior and senior seasons at Archbishop Alter High School in Kettering, Ohio.
“I definitely use some of the NFL tape that I have to show them some of the stuff we did with [Griffin] because they do have similar abilities,” LaFleur said. “There’s similar skill sets in that both those guys can run and they can throw. Anytime I can use the NFL tape I think it’s a good teaching tool.”
LaFleur added he’s used similar drills in practice that he did with Griffin and the Redskins, but the blank slate at Notre Dame makes it different.
“We start from ground zero where a lot of those [NFL] guys that are coming to that level have a foundation,” LaFleur said. “I’m trying to build that foundation with those guys right now so they can get more consistent with everything else we’re doing.”
Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow@MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.