NOTRE DAME — Some days, Everett Golson still needs to be reminded to throw with the laces.
After a decade of gripping the football in his unconventional manner, Notre Dame's senior quarterback began to use the laces while training with quarterback guru George Whitfield last fall. Golson returned to Notre Dame following his semester-long suspension with new and improved skills, a new and improved mentality, and a new and improved way to grip the ball.
But sometimes Notre Dame quarterback coach Matt LaFleur needs to remind Golson to shake his old habits.
"It's definitely an adjustment," Golson said. "I'm trying to work on it, and it's just a process of me getting comfortable with it."
It's not just the laces Golson is adjusting to. He returned to Notre Dame with a whole new stable of wide receivers and running backs and more loaded offensive schemes.
“I’m throwing to a whole different group of guys than I was two years ago,” he said. “It’s been good. It’s a process. You’ve got to treat it as just that. You’re going to have ups and downs, but you have to keep the confidence that everything’s going to take care of itself.”
Through the first month of spring, Notre Dame's first-team offense has consisted of receivers Corey Robinson, C.J. Prosise and Chris Brown and tight end Ben Koyack. In 2012, Golson has a total of three in-game completions between the four of them (two to Brown, one to Koyack). But as the spring has progressed, so has their chemistry.
And that, Golson said, is crucial.
"As you know in football, there's a lot of times where there's not a perfect situation," he said. "Sometimes you’re getting blitzed, you can’t really see the receiver or you have to trust where he’s going to be. I think that’s where the chemistry comes in, having the confidence that he’s going to be there when I need him to be there."
But not all receivers are created equal. Head coach Brian Kelly said that while a player like Will Fuller is built for vertical speed, one like Robinson is built for leverage and out-bodying a defender.
"It's getting a feel for each one and how they run a particular route,” Kelly said. “As much as we would like to stay consistent with how they run the route, there's those little nuances that you have to work out. ... It's not like we've got a million different routes that need to be taught, but there are those slight nuances that each one of them has that they're beginning to work through with each one of them."
While Golson learns the subtleties of Kelly's higher-octane offense, sophomore quarterback Malik Zaire is right on his tail. Zaire has been bullishly adamant that he'll be under center come the Aug. 30 opener against Rice.
Kelly has been clear from the onset that Golson is not the guaranteed starter, which has given Zaire extra motivation to surpass the quarterback that led Notre Dame to a 12-1 record in 2012 and a BCS National Championship game appearance.
Kelly said that the dynamic between Zaire and Golson is much more competitive than the dynamic between Tommy Rees and Golson, but Golson maintains that he and Zaire thrive on making each other better.
"I think it hasn't been anything different than what we expect out of the quarterback room," he said. "We're going to compete, but with the intent of helping each other, pushing each other."
Whether it's a better way of gripping the ball or developing timing with his targets, Golson is confident that the offense is progressing toward where it wants to be this fall.
"Pick your poison," Golson said. "We can spread you out and throw the ball on you. But we still have it in our arsenal to run the ball and power it out."