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Kizer’s draft slip sheds light on Notre Dame’s difficult 2016

On Friday night, DeShone Kizer was selected by the Cleveland Browns with the 52nd overall pick in the NFL Draft. The pick, however, was slightly later than many expected. Throughout the draft process, news circulated about Kizer’s personality. According to Albert Breer of The Monday Morning Quarterback, one AFC head coach said that Kizer had “diva qualities”:

There are diva qualities there, and he seems to (overthink everything), like he’s fighting who he is. And once the cycle starts, he can’t get himself right.

Monday, another report circulated that continued to shed light on Kizer’s draft slippage, this time courtesy of Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports:

When you brought in kids from that school and you asked them about Kizer, no one ever really got excited. It wasn’t like, ‘He’s the man! That’s my guy! You ask Clemson kids about [Deshaun] Watson, and it’s like, ‘That’s our dog! He is our leader. We’d do anything for that guy.’ You talk to kids from UNC about Trubisky and it was the same thing. But with Kizer it was like, ‘He’s a cool guy.’

Perhaps these reports help shed some light on Notre Dame’s struggles this past season. Whatever the reason for the disconnect, it seems pretty clear that a disconnect was present. It certainly isn’t fair to blame Kizer for all–or even the majority–of the problems Notre Dame fans saw on the field, but it seemed obvious that Kizer had plenty to do with Notre Dame’s 4-8 season.

To be fair to Kizer, his rise to the starting quarterback job was anything but typical.

Everett Golson’s departure the summer before the 2015 season was evidence enough that Malik Zaire had taken control of the locker room. Zaire had an infectious demeanor that made him easy to like. The guys in that locker room trusted him. Brian Kelly trusted him.

When Kizer stepped in after Zaire went down with an ankle injury in the season’s second game, the locker room had no choice but to gravitate toward their new quarterback. Everyone loves the backup quarterback, particularly if that backup quarterback ends up being somewhat of a feel-good story. Even in his absence, Zaire helped lead the team, providing a heartbeat.

But to start the 2016 season, the feel good story was over. Zaire, the man who so quickly became the team’s emotional leader was back and this time he was in heavyweight battle with Kizer for the team’s starting quarterback job. Neither of them were particularly happy about the competition. Zaire felt like he had already won the job once before–Kizer thought his play, which came a last-second drive and field goal away from a spot in the College Football Playoff, was enough to be the starter.

In short, the competition likely played a part in the dividing the locker room. That division was probably made worse by Coach Kelly’s non-decision about who the starter would be heading in to the season opener at Texas. What happened in Austin only made matters worse: Kizer played like he was worthy of being dubbed the nation’s best quarterback while Zaire’s father took to Facebook to express his displeasure. Worst yet, the Irish lost and the divisions and questions continued.

By the time Kizer finally took control of the starting job, it was too late for him to take true control of the locker room. For most teams, leaders most often emerge in the practices that precede the season, but the quarterback situation never afforded Kizer that opportunity.

Whether or not either quarterback was truly given his fair shake at Notre Dame is debatable. Fortunately for Irish fans, there are far fewer question marks as the Irish head into the summer before their 2017 campaign. The system is there, the player development is there, and the chemistry is obvious, too. The Irish will be all the better for it.