NOTRE DAME — Everett Golson may be reunited with the Notre Dame football team, but he isn't necessarily reacquainted with his starting spot.
Head coach Brian Kelly said the conditioning reports of the junior quarterback have been positive, and that Golson is "stronger, more mature."
"But it's Jan. 31," Kelly added. "So we have a long way to go. I know we're always in this rush to move to Everett, but I just want to caution everybody that we have, I think, a very good quarterback in Malik Zaire as well. And I'm not ready to hand everything over to Everett."
During Golson's absence due to an academic suspension last fall, then-freshman Zaire enrolled in Notre Dame a semester early and flourished under a full year of tutelage in the program. After an adjustment period when Kelly said the coaching staff needed to learn the best way to connect with the Zaire, the quarterback has moved up in the ranks and earned a chance to compete with Golson.
"He has all the intangibles,” Kelly said of Zaire. “He’s got a strong arm, he’s physically gifted, he’s the first one in and the last one to leave. You can count on him. You can put everything on him and he’s all about football.”
Kelly said Zaire wasn't great in practice last season, that he lost focus midway through the 2013 campaign because his reps started to decrease. But when Zaire would be put in game situations, such as the 2013 Blue-Gold scrimmage, he would shine.
"When he gets into competitive situations, he makes plays," Kelly said. "You love your quarterback to be a playmaker."
On Friday, Jan. 31, Notre Dame introduced two coaches who Zaire and Golson would be spending significant time around this season. The university officially announced Mike Denbrock as its offensive coordinator and Matt LaFleur as its quarterbacks coach.
"The best player plays," Denbrock said. "(Kelly) will make that very clear to the football team as we move forward."
Kelly will call shots on Saturdays
Even though Denbrock comes from within the program and LaFleur comes off of four years coaching quarterbacks with the Washington Redskins, Kelly still plans to take the reins of the offense on game day.
Denbrock will shape and handle the offense on a day-to-day basis, and LaFleur will have full autonomy of the quarterbacks in the meeting room, but familiarity was the most important factor for Kelly.
"One, we're transitioning back to an offense that I feel is best suited for the personnel that we have, and I think it's important to really get that philosophy and influence back into the offense, and I know it the best," he said.
"Once we're able to lay that in there, I think it will give everybody a great visual look at what we want this offense to look like, and I think it starts with me. I think it's important that if I want that offense to have the look, it's important that I have the influence in some fashion, and this is the best way to do it."
Kelly said linebacker Ben Councell (ACL) and center Nick Martin (ACL) have "exceeded expectations" in terms of recovering from their off-season surgeries.
Defensive end Chase Hounshell, linebacker Doug Randolph and offensive lineman John Montelus — all recovering from shoulder injuries — are expected to be ready for spring ball come March. Safety Nicky Baratti (shoulder) will be cleared for spring practices but may be kept out of contact drills.
Kelly said linebacker Jarrett Grace, who broke his leg in four places last season, is recovering slowly. Defensive lineman Tony Springmann (ACL, infection) is also progressing but still has not been cleared for the spring.