Notre Dame Football: Dissecting Brian Kelly's QB Strategy

Mike MonacoContributor IMay 30, 2014

Brian Kelly works with Irish quarterbacks
Brian Kelly works with Irish quarterbacksJOE RAYMOND/Associated Press

At the end of January, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly declared he will be calling the offensive plays in 2014.

Kelly described the look he wants the offense to have as the Irish prepare to transition back to a style that “is best suited for the personnel that we have,” the head coach explained.

What exactly is that look?

“It starts with the quarterback and his ability to be a playmaker within the offense,” Kelly said at the time. “[We’ve had] an offense that, certainly at times, we really haven't been able to craft it to fit a player behind the center.”

Tommy Rees and Brian Kelly
Tommy Rees and Brian KellyKeith Srakocic/Associated Press

In four seasons at Notre Dame, Kelly has played five different quarterbacks: Tommy Rees, Andrew Hendrix, Everett Golson, Dayne Crist and Nate Montana. Only Golson was part of a recruiting class essentially completely handled by Kelly’s regime (Rees and Hendrix were part of the class of 2010, which signed two months after Kelly was named head coach). And only Golson has rushed for more than 200 yards in a single season.

The Irish, Kelly said in January, are looking to tweak the style of quarterback play within the offense.

“What I'm looking for in particular is somebody that can make some things happen outside the pocket,” Kelly said. “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.”

Now entering his fifth season in South Bend, Indiana, Kelly has stocked the roster with his players. And, with both the current signal-callers on the roster as well as the commitments and signees on the way, Kelly’s preferred style of quarterback play is apparent.

Notre Dame has targeted the quarterbacks it wants and—by and large—has reeled them in, situating the position nicely for the coming years.

Dual-threat quarterback Malik Zaire
Dual-threat quarterback Malik ZaireJoe Raymond/Associated Press

In some order, Golson and Malik Zaire will be the top two quarterbacks on the depth chart in the fall. Incoming freshman DeShone Kizer is set to enroll at Notre Dame this summer. Between those three, the Irish boast a talented trio of dual-threat quarterbacks.

But the wheels have already been set in motion on the next wave of Irish quarterbacks. Four-star prospect Blake Barnett is the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback in the class of 2015 and the 65th-best player in the nation overall.

“Notre Dame is signing a guy that you don’t hear too often as the top quarterback in the country, but he’s in the discussion,” said Steve Wiltfong, 247Sports’ director of recruiting.

Maybe more importantly than national rankings, Notre Dame clearly identified Barnett early in the process, and the Corona, California, native gave his verbal commitment in late November.

Blake Barnett
Blake BarnettCredit: 247Sports

“For what they do on offense, they couldn’t get a better player,” Wiltfong said of Barnett.

Kelly and the Irish continue to load up on quarterbacks. All five current and future Irish quarterbacks have garnered 4-star status and ranked in the top 300 overall recruits in the country.

The process has already begun to find a quarterback in the class of 2016. Notre Dame has sent out five scholarship offers, the second-most of any position. Four of those offers have gone to quarterbacks ranked among the top 100 players in the class of 2016: Malik Henry, Jawon Pass, Shea Patterson and Xavier Gaines.

“Now that they have Barnett in the boat, they can get in early with some of the top 2016 quarterbacks in the country,” Wiltfong said. “They’ve already offered a few. So they’ve established who they’d like and now they can start building a relationship early in the process.”

The future is undoubtedly bright for Notre Dame at the quarterback position. Golson has two years of eligibility remaining, while Zaire holds four.

Sure, there’s still a starter to be named for 2014. But, big picture, Kelly has the groundwork laid for his quarterbacks to be the dynamic playmakers he wants.


Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting stats and information courtesy of and all quotes obtained firsthand. Star ratings reflect 247Sports Composite Rankings.

Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.