It wouldn’t be springtime in South Bend without some quarterback news. This year’s episode is one of attrition, not competition.
Freshman quarterback Gunner Kiel has "a long list" of schools he'll be exploring rather than continuing his career at Notre Dame.
Irish head coach Brian Kelly confirmed that would-be sophomore Gunner Kiel is no longer a part of the football program. Kiel, who enrolled early at Notre Dame a year ago, completed his release last Friday before the school’s spring break.
“I don’t know that I’m surprised,” Kelly said. “We had kind of created an opportunity for him to compete in the spring. So, maybe a little surprised from that standpoint.”
Kelly said he and Kiel talked through a long list of “nationally regarded” programs across the map as future destinations for the former five-star recruit. The schools on Kiel’s list, which were too many to name according to Kelly, were “appropriate relative to who was on our schedule," the coach said. Kiel is expected to finish the semester at Notre Dame before transferring in the summer.
Had he stayed, Kiel would have been part of a four-man group trying to unseat sophomore starter Everett Golson or at least vying to be his understudy. Kelly said he expects seniors Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix, along with early enrollee Malik Zaire, to continue to push Golson during spring practice and compete for a chance to play.
“I want them to go in knowing that Everett Golson has experience, but that’s all he has,” Kelly said. “When you’re given your opportunity, compete. If you back off at all and you don’t want to be the starter, then we can make that happen for you.”
Golson, provided he holds off his challengers, will be the focal point of an offense that Kelly described as replete with good players, but missing the type of star player the Irish have featured in the past such as All-Americans Michael Floyd and Tyler Eifert. Discovering the direction his offense will take without a keystone player is on the to-do list this spring.
The coaching staff will count on Golson to be more consistent and more of a leader in his second season as starter. That includes taking care of himself off the field to add weight and avoid injury. Golson spent as much practice time on the injury list as any Irish player last fall. He starts spring practice at 188 pounds, up from 180 pounds in the fall, and Kelly said he’d like Golson to add at least five more pounds before August.
“There are a lot of things that’s he’s going to have to work on,” Kelly said. “He’s stepping up front. He’s active in meetings. He sits in that chair over there and he’s at the edge of the chair. He’s a guy that’s been the starter at Notre Dame and knows what goes along with that.”
Irish head coach Brian Kelly said he was pleased with some of the new leaders emerging on the Notre Dame defense this spring.
Golson is one of several players that will get his shot to replace the large contingent of veteran leaders that ran out of eligibility in 2012. Finding an identity for the 2013 team and developing its leaders will be a major theme during the next month of spring practice.
Kelly said he has already seen certain returners on the defensive side of the ball to help fill the void left by players like Manti Te’o, Kapron Lewis-Moore and Zeke Motta. He called out senior cornerback Lo Wood, junior linebacker Jarrett Grace and fifth-year defensive lineman Tyler Stockton as players who have become a voice of the team during winter workouts.
“We’re seeing guys are starting to understand what it takes to be a leader,” Kelly said. “It means holding others accountable and we’re starting to see that on a day-to-day basis. It’s still a work in progress for us.”
Stockton, who did not suit up for the Irish late last season, is the most surprising of the six players granted a fifth year of eligibility starting this spring. He’s joined by placekicker Nick Tausch, linebackers Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox, and offensive linemen Chris Watt and Zack Martin.
- Safeties coach Bob Elliott is back with the team this month after a successful kidney transplant surgery in early February. He has been with the team during winter conditioning workouts in the last couple of weeks.
“He is doing extremely well. …He’s back to being a pain in the butt, so we know he’s doing well,” Kelly said.
- Kelly said a host of players that had offseason surgeries, including senior Bennett Jackson, sophomore Nicky Baratti and Fox, were able to get stronger overall while going through rehab. They will be limited during spring practice. The coach confirmed that junior Matt Hegarty is 100 percent cleared to compete for the starting center spot after his heart surgery in December.
“We’re well ahead of where we’ve been in the first couple years relative to those players that were injured. They look great,” Kelly said.
- Junior running back Amir Carlisle, who sat out last season with an ankle injury after transferring from USC, is almost 100 percent healthy. His rehab was prolonged by nerve damage in his leg after breaking a bone roughly one year ago. Kelly said he started to show “some real exciting flashes” in winter conditioning and he’ll be expected to push George Atkinson III for reps in the backfield.