Notre Dame Football: Top Performers from the Irish's Spring Game

Keith ArnoldNotre Dame Lead WriterApril 14, 2014

Notre Dame running back Greg Bryant heads up field during the Blue Gold game an  NCAA football game marking the end of spring practice at Notre Dame Stadium Saturday April 12, 2014 in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)
Joe Raymond

The dust has settled inside Notre Dame Stadium. Or perhaps that was mostly dirt, with the natural grass surface getting one last run before it's ripped out and replaced by a synthetic surface after graduation in May. 

Either way, with the 85th Blue-Gold game complete and spring practice in the books, there's plenty to take away from the offense's 63-58 victory over the defense. Let's take a look at some of the top performers from Saturday's scrimmage. 


Malik Zaire

Apr 12, 2014; Notre Dame, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Malik Zaire (8) prepares for the snap in the first quarter of the Blue-Gold Game at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The story of Saturday's game was definitely the Irish's backup quarterback, Malik Zaire. The rising sophomore started the game at quarterback for the Blue, then marched the offense down the field for an impressive touchdown drive, which included two big chunk pass plays, delivering strikes to C.J. Prosise and Will Fuller before Cam McDaniel punched in the touchdown. 

Zaire hit big passes to Chris Brown and Prosise his next time out, the highlights of his 18-of-27 performance that tallied 292 yards and two touchdowns. While he wasn't perfectBrian Kelly would've liked Zaire to do a better job running the two-minute drill before halfit was a great sign that the quarterback position is as healthy as it's been under Kelly. 


Greg Bryant

Greg Bryant's 51-yard run was the biggest play of the day, and the rising sophomore more than doubled every other back's output on the afternoon. One of the most highly anticipated freshman in 2013, Bryant's spring game performance was a breakout Irish fans have waited for since last August. 

Again, Bryant wasn't perfect. His big run erased some ineffective carries. But after home run threat George Atkinson departed early for the NFL draft, watching Bryant get his afternoon kickstarted by running the delayed counter handoff that Atkinson ran so effectively was fitting. 


Jaylon Smith

Jaylon Smith spent most of the afternoon watching the game from the sideline. But the fact that the Irish's best defensive playmaker still managed to make six tackles gives you an idea that the soon-to-be sophomore is going to make a ridiculous amount of plays in Brian VanGorder's new system. 

Smith's cameo featured him at both his traditional position outside as well as manning the Will linebacker position. Kelly talked after the game about Smith's versatility growing this spring. 

"He has an understanding of how to play this defense both inside‑out and outside‑in and that he had no knowledge of going into the spring," Kelly said. "That's a smart football player, and a guy that now is an asset to our defense in a manner that he never was before."

If he can stay healthy, you might as well chalk Smith up with 110 tackles next season.  


Romeo Okwara

Spring game sacks are hardly real sacks. But the fact that Romeo Okwara tallied them has to at least be a relief to the Irish coaching staff. Playing defensive end this spring for the first time, Okwara looked explosive off the edge on Saturday, tallying three sacks and sharing a tackle for loss as well. 

As important as the spring was for Okwara, the next four months are essential. Okwara will need to continue to develop his body and his skill set for the position, which is the type of training that'll let him be an every-down player, if only out of necessity. 

The raw materials are there for Okwara to be a very productive college football player. But he's starting from scratch at defensive end and has a long way to go. 


Tarean Folston

If Bryant flashed the most promise, Tarean Folston already looks like a savvy veteran at running back. The sophomore may have only gotten his first touches late last season, but his knowledge of the game and vision on the field is obvious. 

Folston averaged 5.4 yards per carry on his seven totes but was explosive in the passing game where his five first-half catches showcased a running back position that'll play more of a role in the aerial attack. 

For as impressive as Bryant was, Folston is too good of a weapon not to be featured in this offense. How carries will be distributed is one of the offseason's big questions. 


Chris Brown

Joe Raymond

The junior receiver provided a strong finish to spring practice by notching a 100-yard game. With DaVaris Daniels gone for the semester, this was Chris Brown's position group to lead. As the veteran of the group, he did that this spring and was praised by the coaching staff for his work. 

The timing was perfect for Brown, who was in a sink-or-swim predicament. Surrounded by perhaps one of the most talented receiving corps Notre Dame has put together, Brown needed a strong spring or would face getting lapped by young receivers.

The South Carolina native has all the ingredients needed to be a very good player. Saturday's performance showed him getting closer to putting it all together. 


Everett Golson

Apr 12, 2014; Notre Dame, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Everett Golson (5) hands the ball off in the first quarter of the Blue-Gold game at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

No, his numbers didn't match up with Zaire's. But Everett Golson, playing in his first game-like situation since the BCS title game against Alabama, shook off any signs of rust rather early. Playing against a ramped up defense, Golson got the Irish into the correct looks and made the type of good decisions Notre Dame needs from its quarterback. 

Golson's athleticism was apparent, especially in a few scramble situations. His arm strength was still clearly there, as we saw on a perfect deep ball to Corey Robinson. And while Zaire made his intentions well known, this is still Golson's offense. 


*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.