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Sports

Kelly says both Kizer and Zaire will play at Texas

| Friday, August 19, 2016

It seems the quarterback competition will continue into the season as Irish head coach Brian Kelly announced today that both senior Malik Zaire and junior DeShone Kizer will play in Notre Dame’s opening game against Texas.

“They have both have been outstanding,” Kelly said. “They both make plays. They both are playmakers. We would just continue to practice and continue to see both of these guys make plays. So we’re going to play both of them at Texas. Both of them will play at Texas and both of them have been instructed to keep doing what they are doing. … It doesn’t bother me playing two going into the Texas game, and we’ll see what happens the next week against Nevada. I’m focused strictly on Texas and we are best prepared to beat Texas by playing both DeShone and Malik.”

Irish senior quarterback Malik Zaire rolls out to pass during the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30, 2014.Observer File Photo

Irish senior quarterback Malik Zaire rolls out to pass during the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30, 2014.

In addition the desire to have playmakers on the field, Kelly said he hopes his decision will take pressure off of his quarterbacks.

“I did it for a reason,” Kelly said.  “I think now they can just settle into getting better every day. They don’t have to worry about a competition for the Texas game. They can just focus on getting better. You know, whatever the by-product of that is, I thought would be a positive, and that’s why I made the decision at this time.”

Playing a two quarterback system is unorthodox but not unheard of, and the Irish made it work in 2012 with both Tommy Rees and Everett Golson seeing playing time in important games.

Kelly emphasized the decision was the best one for the program as a whole, but both quarterbacks appeared to have reservations about the situation.

“I never really saw it happening the way it [did],” Kizer said. “There’s a lot of good and bad. You don’t come here to play with two quarterbacks. When you commit to playing at the Division I level, you expect yourself to be the only guy, cause that’s the traditional way of playing football. So for me, the initial reaction was to have those selfish thoughts and to go back to the ideas I had before coming here.

“But quickly I learned that this is about something a lot bigger than me. This is about the University of Notre Dame coming out and trying to win another national championship and in order to do that, both of are going to be on the field. And it’s under the direction of coach Kelly, he’s been doing it for 26 years and been doing it very well, so whatever he says, I’m going to commit to and make sure I can do my best,” Kizer said.

“There’s always things you can’t control,” Zaire said. “I continue to take each I treat my job like a professional, I always feel like I’m ready. The situation being how it is, I don’t make the decisions, I just continue to do what I need to do to help this team win football games.

“ … Coach Kelly never really made it easy on me, but I just continue to treat my job like a professional and do what is asked of me and the cards are dealt the way they’re deal and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Though both quarterbacks seemed to indicate disappointment over the decision, Irish offensive coordinator Mike Sanford said both quarterbacks need to exhibit a team-first mentality as camp progresses.

“It’s my job as the quarterback coach, and in that role of coaching that group of players, to make sure everything we do is putting this team first,” Sanford said. “And I’ll continue to preach that message and demand it out of our players. If we don’t want to put our team first in everything we do … then we’re not doing our jobs as quarterbacks … with that said, there’s certainly going to be an emotional side. These are not 29, 30 year old savvy NFL veterans. They’re still working through being a 21, 22 year old college student. That’s part of the ongoing process of educating and helping these young men grow.”

Kelly did not say whether or not the dual-quarterback system will remain in place beyond the Texas game, or what would necessitate change.

Whoever lines up behind center, they will have a largely new array of players to work with. Senior Tarean Folston returns to the Irish backfield after suffering a season-ending ACL injury in the Texas game last year. Along with Folston, sophomores Josh Adams and Dexter Williams round out the backfield after impressive freshman campaigns. Adams rushed for 835 yards after he took over for Folston and Stanford said the depth at running back is one of the best parts of the offense.

“I absolutely love the depth of our running backs,” Sanford said. “You got a Dexter Williams that’s progressed so incredibly well. Josh Adams, who from the very beginning of camp last year, he’s special to say the least. You got Tarean Folston, who when not having to put the entire workload on him, can be an unbelievable hammer for you and a very very intuitive, great instinctual runner with zone schemes and power schemes.”

Irish senior running back Tarean Folston extends for a touchdown against North Carolina on Oct. 11, 2014.Zachary Llorens | The Observer

Irish senior running back Tarean Folston extends for a touchdown against North Carolina on Oct. 11, 2014.

“We got a lot of talented backs,” Folston said. “From me being a senior all the way down to Tony [Jones Jr.] being a freshman, we can all flat out play. … I’m very comfortable with our backfield.”

While the Irish running backs are a known quantity, the 2016 receivers are not.

“I’m concerned. They are all young,” Kelly said. “I mean, I’m concerned with every one of them. So I mean, they are all suspects to me, you know. So they all have to go out and prove themselves. Having said that, it does me no good to worry about it; but to coach it and develop it during practice and get them ready. They are all capable of doing it, but I’m concerned about all of them, because none of them have really had a full year of production yet.”

Though the receiving corps, led by senior Torii Hunter Jr., is less experienced than in years past, many in the program are seeing signs of improvement, especially from Miles Boykin

“Chase Claypool has completely developed in the last two weeks,” Kizer said. “He has literally taken huge strides. Miles Boykin, a guy who’s already experienced a year here has been able to take the things he learned from those older guys last year and apply them.”

Similarly, Hunter Jr. also signaled out sophomore Miles Boykin as a receiver who’s shown improvement coming into fall camp.

“Miles Boykin,” Hunter Jr. said. “He’s really stepped up a lot these last couple days, trying to make a lot more plays. I’m really proud of the growth that he’s made cause we’re going to need him this year for sure.”

On defense, the Irish are much younger than last year and without proven veterans like Jaylon Smith, Joe Schmidt and Sheldon Day. In the secondary especially, the Irish will start a couple of fresh faces after the departures of Keivarae Russell and Elijah Shumate.

One upperclassmen who has bolstered the secondary after coming back from injury is junior safety Drue Tranquill. Kelly and defensive backs coach Todd Lyght have praised Tranquill’s drive to return to the field as well as his leadership.

“Leadership is about developing a relationship with guys on the team,” Tranquill said. “I think if you can’t bring out the best in the guy next to you, you’re not leading the best you can. As I continue to get to know my teammates more, understanding their strengths, their weaknesses and how they can best help our team is the biggest thing moving forward.”

Irish junior safety Drue Tranquill heads upfield after recovering a fumble against Northwestern on Nov. 15, 2014.Emmet Farnan | The Observer

Irish junior safety Drue Tranquill heads upfield after recovering a fumble against Northwestern on Nov. 15, 2014.

One of those relationships Tranquill built was with sophomore defensive back Shaun Crawford who also suffered an torn ACL last summer.

“I told him, ‘Shaun, you’re only going to turn this thing around when you turn your mindset around,’” Tranquill said. “‘You can lull and you can hang your head on what could have been, or you can attack each day with this injury doesn’t define me, this isn’t who I am, I’m going to attack this day with what I’ve been given.’ And that’s the opportunity to come back. I said ‘Shaun, sometimes in life people are afforded the opportunity to come back, sometimes they’re paralyzed or they come down with cancer. We have the opportunity to come back, let’s come back and attack it each and every day.”

Crawford is nearing full health and is one of many Irish defensive backs who will have to prove themselves on the field.

“They gotta get out there and they gotta get after it,” Lyght said. “Training against our offensive is tremendous because we do so many thing offensively in regards to scheme, they’re going to see a ton. And I think that when they get in games against other opponents, they’ll be well prepared. But how will they react under the bright lights on the big stage, that’s another thing. But these are big time high school football players, they came to Notre Dame to play in big time situations.”

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About Marek Mazurek

Marek is a senior history major and is a former resident of Carroll Hall. He has lived in Mishawaka or South Bend for all 21 years of his life and covers Notre Dame football and men's basketball. He has loads of hand-eye coordination but lacks the height to be any good. Marek is also a proud esports supporter.

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