When Notre Dame opens spring practice Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. all four of its quarterbacks will be on equal footing. Irish coach Brian Kelly said he plans to scale back his offense this month to make the quarterback competition a wide open battle.
Brian Kelly addresses the media Tuesday before starting his third spring camp with the Irish.
“If they’re all going to get an equal opportunity to compete for the position then they all have to start with a similar knowledge base,” Kelly said Tuesday afternoon. “So, we’ve kind of taken a step back and really looked at our offensive structure. We’re going to make it so all four guys that are here can compete at a fair level.”
Of the four candidates — junior Tommy Rees, junior Andrew Hendrix, sophomore Everett Golson and early enrollee Gunner Kiel — Rees stands to lose the most by flipping back to page one in the Irish playbook. The incumbent has sixteen starts under his belt while Hendrix is the only one of the other three who has even taken snaps in college. Kelly said his experience would put him too far out in front of the other three quarterbacks to have a legitimate competition.
Kelly hopes that by taking a step back he’ll be able to evaluate which option checks off the most items on his quarterback wish list, which includes: avoiding turnovers, good decision making and the ability to extend plays. Kelly said the quarterbacks will be evaluated daily, but he doesn’t have a timetable in mind for when he wants to name a starter. He also hasn’t decided yet whether he will use multiple quarterbacks when the season starts, although ideally he’d like to stick with one main player.
“I’d love to have one guy,” Kelly siad. “When he comes off the field I embrace him every time with a big touchdown hug. That’s what we’re looking for. That’s the vision that I have.”
Newly acquired running back Amir Carlisle will have to wait a few more months before suiting up for Notre Dame after breaking his ankle during voluntary 7-on-7 drills last week. Carlisle transferred from Southern California where he played as a freshman. The NCAA cleared him to play right away for the Irish last week, but he’ll be on the sidelines this spring. Kelly said he expects the sophomore to be healthy for summer workouts in June.
Fifth-year senior Braxston Cave is ahead of schedule in his recovery from foot surgery last fall. He is expected to participate mainly in non-contact drills during the spring in an effort to be cautious and could be ready to play in the Blue-Gold Game next month.
Kelly said the Irish are also playing it safe with interior defensive lineman Tony Springmann, who had surgery to correct a bulging disc during the winter, and running back Cam Roberson, who missed all of last season with a knee injury. Kapron Lewis-Moore, Eilar Hardy, Anthony Rabasa and Tate Nichols are all fully cleared to play. Sophomore defensive lineman Chase Hounshell had shoulder surgery later in the winter and will be limited to start the spring, but is expected to participate to some degree.
Several players swapped sides of the ball heading into spring practice. Most notably, 6-foot-7 sophomore Troy Niklas moves from outside linebacker to tight end. He is expected to add a little more depth and allow the Irish to use All-American Tyler Eifert in a variety of ways in the offense.
“I think it says more about what we’re looking for in terms of the depth of the positions,” Kelly said. “We feel like we’re pretty good at the outside linebacker position.”
Kelly said the need for bodies at the dog linebacker spot has decreased because they’ll be using a safety there more often this season in an effort to create better match-ups against spread offenses.
Accordingly, the Irish added a safety to the depth chart with sophomore Matthias Farley moving over from slot receiver. Kelly said he was originally pegged as a defensive back when he came to South Bend, but was forced to play offense because of thin numbers at receiver.
Sophomore Cam McDaniel also switched to defense. The former running back from Coppell, Texas will help add numbers at the razor thin cornerback spot. Juniors Lo Wood and Bennett Jackson enter the spring as starters and will be backed up by sophomores Jalen Brown and Josh Atkinson. Kelly said he doesn’t currently have any plans to move any one else to the cornerback position.
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