Part four of our positional breakdown examines what is widely regarded as the most important position in football, the quarterback. Unlike last year, there is no legitimate quarterback controversy this off-season. Brandon Wimbush will be leading the Irish offense when they begin their season against Temple on September 2nd. Naturally, there are questions heading into Wimbush’s first year as a starter. Fans’ concerns are amplified a bit by the fact that the team has a new offensive coordinator (Chip Long), who is implementing a new system.
2016 Depth Chart
DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire shared first-team reps for most of the spring and summer leading up to the season opener against Texas. Brian Kelly, much to the chagrin of Irish fans, decided not to name a starting quarterback before the first game. Instead, he said that Kizer and Zaire would both play. The plan was to alternate quarterbacks each offensive possession. After the first half of the game, it was clear that Kizer was outplaying Zaire; however, Brian Kelly allowed Zaire to lead the Irish offense on the first possession of the third quarter. The offense went three-and-out, and that was it for Zaire.
Even though Kizer finished with six total touchdowns in that game, both quarterbacks were clearly hindered by the game plan. It took snaps away from Kizer and never allowed Zaire to get in a rhythm. After that game, Kizer assumed the role of starting quarterback for the rest of the 2016 season.
Zaire saw action in seven other games in 2016, and they weren’t all appearances at the end of a blowout. When Kizer struggled in a couple games, Brian Kelly would bench him for a series or two. It seemed as if Kelly wanted to keep Zaire engaged, and show him that he brought value to the team.
From spring all the way through the 2016 season Brian Kelly was in a balancing act trying to please both of his quarterbacks. He knew that if he declared a starting quarterback early on, he would risk losing the other quarterback to another program via transfer. Kelly had to continue this balancing act throughout the entire season because the future of both players at Notre Dame beyond 2016 was uncertain.
2017 Depth Chart
During the turmoil of the 2016 season, Brandon Wimbush was working on his game and patiently waiting for his turn to compete for the starting job. With Kizer declaring for the NFL Draft and Zaire transferring to the University of Florida, Wimbush became the clear favorite to become the next starting quarterback at Notre Dame. After the quarterback controversy of 2016, Irish fans are more than happy to embrace a clear-cut starter for the 2017 season.
Behind Wimbush are sophomore Ian Book, senior Montgomery VanGorder, and incoming freshman Avery Davis. Barring an extraordinary display of talent by Davis during the summer practices, Book will be the back-up quarterback. After his performance in the Notre Dame’s Blue-Gold Game this spring, I’d say Irish fans are content with that.
In the Blue-Gold Game, Ian Book threw for 271 yards and a touchdown on 18-25 passing. Even though the vast majority of his snaps were with the second team offense and defense, it was still a reassuring performance. Wimbush, on the other hand, was 22-32 for 303 yards with 2 interceptions. He also had a decent amount of rushing attempts including an eight-yard touchdown run. Quarterback runs are tough to judge during spring games, though, since the referees will whistle the play dead as soon as a defender tags the quarterback.
We will have a better idea of the quarterback depth chart once we make it through a significant amount of the summer. If the staff has enough confidence in Montgomery VanGorder, it’s possible that Avery Davis could be redshirted this year.
As I mentioned earlier, there are questions about Brandon Wimbush heading into the 2017 season. A first year starter and a new offensive coordinator will elicit that reaction from a fan base. Couple that with the fact that the Irish are coming off one of their worst seasons in program history and you get a sense of why so many fans are on-edge.
I think we all need to take a deep breath, play some Marvin Gaye, and sip on a hot cup of chamomile tea. The Irish offense will be just fine. This is about as good of a situation that a first year starter can walk into. Wimbush will be taking snaps behind a veteran offensive line and distributing the ball to a plethora of dynamic playmakers. Chip Long, Notre Dame’s new offensive coordinator, likes to use tempo. That will put opposing defenses on their heels and force them to stay in their base coverages. Wimbush will have defined reads to make, and he will not have to worry too much about exotic looks.
An improved Irish defense will benefit Wimbush and the offense as well. Being able to maintain a lead and not having to play from behind gives an offense so many more options when it comes to play-calling.
2018 Commits and Targets
Notre Dame has only one quarterback commitment in their 2018 class: four-star Phil Jurkovec out of Pine-Richland High School in Pennsylvania. Irish fans (myself included) are excited about what he brings to the offense and believe he has tons of potential.
I wouldn’t worry about having only one quarterback commitment in the 2018 class. That’s basically what most programs are aiming for each year. There are a couple of other 2018 quarterback prospects that Notre Dame has expressed interest in, but I think that’s just for insurance. I would be surprised if they added another quarterback to the 2018 class.
Notre Dame has already extended offers to three quarterbacks in the 2019 class: Bo Nix, J.T. Daniels, and Spencer Rattler. All three quarterbacks are currently graded as four-star prospects (according to Scout). It’s too early to gauge Notre Dame’s chances to land any of these prospects, but having those offers out puts them in a good position.