Golson, who started 11 games during Notre Dame’s 12-1 season in 2012, returns to Notre Dame following an academic suspension loaded with experience. But Zaire, the athletic sophomore who watched and learned from the sideline in 2013, plans on giving him a run at the starting job in August.
In the past, Kelly has waited until the week before Notre Dame’s opening game to announce the starting quarterback. He plans on following a similar schedule this August, but won’t hesitate to make the call if the answer comes sooner.
“If that guy shows himself, I'm ready to name him the quarterback on that day,” Kelly said during Notre Dame’s season-opening press conference Friday, Aug. 1. “So I'm not playing a game where, you know, we are trying to create artificial competition within the ranks. I think we still have competition for that particular role to show itself.”
While the battle for this position has become something of a norm at Notre Dame in recent years, this is the first time Kelly gets to measure two quarterbacks with similar mobile abilities.
“This is the first time that we don't have to have two scripts for two quarterbacks,” Kelly said. “They are running the same plays and that is a huge advantage in terms of building that consistency throughout the ranks for everybody, from the offensive line, for the receivers, to the quarterback.”
Kelly said he is looking for a quarterback who has the ability to lead Notre Dame to the championship game. Golson might have an early advantage based on his experience, but Kelly wouldn’t call him the driving force of 2012’s success.
“I would argue that Everett rode the bus to the championship,” Kelly said. “I think Malik has the ability to play winning football for us. And I want him to play championship football for us.”
Zaire turned heads during the Blue-Gold spring game in April, throwing for 292 yards and two touchdowns. Kelly said Zaire understands the concepts of the game but still struggles with the “hiccups” that come out of freshman-level mistakes.
“I think for him, sometimes we just have to keep him focused on a day-to-day basis and stay within the system,” Kelly said. “I really like his progression. He's been great this summer, and just don't revert back to some of the mistakes that he's made in the past. If he does that, he's going to be ready to compete at a high level.”
As for Golson, Kelly said the redshirt senior understands the “how” of the playbook, but is now working on recognizing the “why.”
“I think it's an ongoing process of ... understanding the move before the move is made,” Kelly said. “So it's the ‘why’ of the playbook. Why are we doing this? What's the next call here when you see this coverage? And when you get there, you want the quarterback now to be one step ahead of you. ‘Coach, we need to be doing this.’ We're not there yet, but we are moving in that direction.”
Senior linebacker Jarrett Grace, who underwent two surgeries after breaking his leg against Arizona State last October, is “close to being ready,” according to Brian Kelly.
Notre Dame loses senior defensive lineman Tony Springman, whose collegiate playing career has been cut short due to lingering back issues. Kelly said though Springmann cannot play, he will continue to be involved with the football program.
Kelly singled out linebacker Ben Councell and center Nick Martin as “setting the bar” for returning from their respective knee injuries.
Tight end Mike Heuerman had hernia surgery last month and will miss about a month.
Tight end Ben Koyack underwent shoulder surgery during the off-season but is cleared for fall camp.