This article is a part of our 2012 Player Projections series. During the summer months Blue & Gold Illustrated will be evaluating each player on Notre Dame’s projected two-deep depth chart — reviewing their careers to this point and discussing expectations for the year to come.
Gunner Kiel sits through his first media session as an early enrollee during spring practice.
Gunner Kiel — QB
Height: 6-foot-4 Weight: 210
Stats: 57 yards passing, 15 yards rushing (2012 Blue-Gold Scrimmage)
Gunner Kiel might be a long shot to see the field as a true freshman this fall, but the Irish coaching staff maintains that he’s still a part of the four-man competition for Notre Dame’s quarterback job.
Keil, one of the country’s most coveted high school quarterbacks last fall, has all of the physical tools to some day be a very good player. At 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, he has the best frame of any of the quarterbacks of the Irish roster this season. He has a strong right arm and a somewhat underrated ability to lower his shoulder and pick up a few yards on the ground when needed. He’s comparable to former Irish quarterback Brady Quinn during his college career in that sense — not thought of as a runner, but sturdy enough to scramble in a pinch.
The mental part of the college game kept Kiel behind his competitors on the depth chart this spring. The Columbus, Ind. native ran a spread offense in high school, but against a low level of competition.
“It’s pretty unreal,” Kiel said after his first few practices this spring. “Looking at the playbook and terms and concepts it’s hard, but I mean, it’s something you can do. Definitely for me, being in the spread definitely helped, but there’s so much more new stuff out to learn and do and process that it’s going to take time.”
Kiel has had an overwhelming start to 2012 by any standards. He made a last second decision to stay in Indiana rather than go to LSU in late January. Two weeks later, while Kiel was adjusting to an early dose of college classes, LSU head coach Les Miles made national headlines by questioning his “chest.” In the spring, he tried to digest the Irish playbook while dealing with the loss of his uncle, former Irish quarterback Blair Kiel, who died on April 8.
The next six months should be a little bit less tumultuous for Kiel as he settles into his first collegiate season.
It’s too early to count Kiel out of the mix for the Irish this season. There’s no telling what type of improvement he might be able to make during the summer months after a tumultuous first semester at college.
“They’re all in position to battle for the job, win the job, but we’re looking for somebody to take the job — with plays, with actions, with demeanor, the whole deal,” said offensive coordinator Chuck Martin.
The whole deal is a lot to ask of any true freshman regardless of quarterback pedigree or raw talent. Kiel’s main goal this season is to stay engaged enough with the Irish offense that he’s well versed in the playbook when his time comes — whether that be during the 2012 season or some point further in the future. Everett Golson and Andrew Hendrix are at least a calendar year ahead of Kiel and still digesting Kelly’s apparently robust offensive scheme as of spring practice.
Kiel won’t fit into a package like Hendrix and Golson did last season. It also doesn’t make sense to rush him on to the field while the option of maintaining a year of eligibility is still on the table. If Kiel plays this season, it won’t be in mop-up duty or to try to show a different look. He’ll be expected to be the whole deal.
What’s a Good Season?
A good season for Kiel probably means a bad one for Notre Dame. The 18-year-old was in over his head during spring practice. If any of the other three quarterback candidates can give Notre Dame a chance to win, it makes sense to give Kiel a full year of grooming before throwing him onto the field.
Kiel has a lot of talent, but not the kind of freak skill set that outweighs knowledge and experience. If a freshman with six months in a college system ends up as the best option among four quarterback candidates, that’s probably not a good sign for the Irish.