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Quarterbacks, safeties discuss position battles

| Monday, March 21, 2016

As Notre Dame enters spring practice, all eyes will be on the three quarterbacks competing for the starting job: Senior Malik Zaire, junior DeShone Kizer and sophomore Brandon Wimbush.

“Spring ball is going well,” Wimbush said. “It’s a time for the three guys who are the helm to compete for job and see how that goes.”

Kizer started 11 games for the Irish last season, going 8-3 after opening-day starter Zaire injured his ankle in Notre Dame’s second game against Virginia.

Nearly six months after his surgery, Zaire said he is almost back to 100 percent.

“I’m getting there, pretty much there right now,” Zaire said. “[I] continue to rehab like I’m supposed to and feeling good. I’ve been practicing full-fledged, so that’s always a good sign. … I’m still working on my mobility, getting my range back. Strengthening up the tendons and the things I got injured, so it’s ahead of schedule. I’m doing good. I’m feeling good.”

Zaire was the clear-cut starter going into last season, but now finds himself embroiled in yet another battle for the starting quarterback job. The Kettering, Ohio, native said he believes he is the best quarterback on the team, but plans to focus on improving himself rather than worrying about the competition.

“You just really wonder what it’s going to take to finally convince people enough that I’m able to do the job,” Zaire said. “Like I said, I don’t make decisions so I just keeping balling and doing what I gotta do, and that’s being the best in the country every time I gotta be out there and proving that to myself. I know I’m a championship quarterback. That’s something that we’re working on. I think everyday is another process for me and my growth and development, and I know I gotta be at the best of my shape at all times to help this team win football games. Everything else is kinda like whatever. You’re going to do what you gotta do. Whenever they give me my chance, I’m going to take advantage of it.”

Kizer also emphasized personal growth over competition, but said the addition of Wimbush to the mix gives this spring’s competition a different feel than last year’s.

“The way that coach [Brian Kelly] approaches every offseason is that there’s no position handed to anyone, so there’s going to be a competition no matter what,” Kizer said. “You know, last year there was a situation where Malik goes down, and I’m asked to step in, but at the same time, you know, I was competing with a great quarterback behind me in Brandon. So this is another opportunity where there’s three guys instead of two.”

Irish junior quarterback DeShone Kizer eludes the pass rush during Notre Dame's 44-28 loss to Ohio State on Jan. 1 at University of Phoenix Stadium.Wei Lin | The Observer
Irish junior quarterback DeShone Kizer eludes the pass rush during Notre Dame’s 44-28 loss to Ohio State on Jan. 1 at University of Phoenix Stadium.

The third challenger for the job, Wimbush, was until recently, expected to redshirt this season. However, Kelly announced that Wimbush would compete for the starting job in spring ball. Regardless, Wimbush said his approach to the spring practices did not change with Kelly’s announcement.

“It might sound cliché, but my mindset didn’t change really from when he made that first announcement to when he made this past week’s announcement,” Wimbush said. “I prepare every day as if I’m going to be the starter. That’s the only way I can go about my business. I control only what I can control.”

Secondary shakeup

In addition to the quarterback position, the safety spots may be in for a shakeup since key players from last season, Matthias Farley and Elijah Shumate, have graduated. Two players who will look to fill their shoes are senior Max Redfield and junior Drue Tranquill.

Redfield started 11 games for the Irish last season, but was suspended for the Battlefrog Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State for violating team rules prior to the game. Redfield said he has moved on from that incident and is ready to be a leader for the secondary.

“Kind of like I mentioned earlier, [we need to] harness those details on and off the field and just being conscious of basically everything you’re doing at all times to just move forward and benefit your game on and off the field,” Redfield said. “That’s something I need to be a little more conscious of and make sure that everybody is conscious of [with me] being a leader at this point.”

Tranquill also figures to be in the mix for a starting safety job as he returns from an ACL tear suffered last season during the Georgia Tech game Sept. 20. Tranquill is not fully healed, but he said he looks forward to competing for the starting job come summer practices.

“It was great competition with Shumate last year,” Tranquill said. “We were kinda going back and forth, but they can obviously use me in a lot of different packages so I presume they’ll do that the same this year. Obviously, my role at safety will take up a little bit more, so I’m excited for that. Obviously, I’m assuming they’ll use me in some different packages as well.”

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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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