Notre Dame Football: Comparing Everett Golson and Malik Zaire
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame has not named a starting quarterback. Everett Golson and Malik Zaire are jockeying for that position.
Seems simple enough, right?
Who knows when a starter will be named, but let’s dig into the quarterback competition and break down both Golson and Zaire in a variety of categories to try to gain a clearer picture of the position battle.
*All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
It was one of the first things that stood out when the doors opened and we were allowed to watch practice: Golson’s arm strength. The senior has added zip to his throws, and his teammates took notice from Day 1.
Zaire isn’t so much blatantly deficient in this category as he is just behind Golson’s superior level. Zaire can certainly hold his own and has shown the strength to make all the throws: downfield and to the sideline, for example.
But with Golson, it’s just been a different caliber of throw. We’ve heard from wide receivers and cornerbacks alike who were caught off guard the first time Golson was zinging lasers around the field.
Now, as for how this relates to the supposed quarterback competition, I’d say not a ton. Sure, a more powerful arm gives Golson added playmaking ability, but arm strength isn’t too valuable without the decision-making prowess and accuracy, of course.
Still, it cannot hurt.
This one is tight, and both signal-callers bring more mobility to the table than former Irish quarterback Tommy Rees did.
But we should distinguish between a few different types of mobility here. There’s the sheer running ability and the talent to make an impact on designed runs and scrambles. There’s also the mobility around and outside the pocket in maneuvering by pass-rushers.
When it comes to running ability, I think Zaire has a slight edge. We’ve seen both quarterbacks take off and make plays with their feet in practice, but I’ll lean toward Zaire here. Maybe it’s only because he’s been quicker to escape trouble, but Zaire has looked very comfortable on his feet in the open field.
Everett Golson took all the first-team reps at QB, but Malik Zaire got plenty of work. In terms of open field quicks, edge to Zaire.— Irish Illustrated (@NDatRivals) March 19, 2014
In terms of mobility around the pocket, it’s tough to gauge Zaire’s ability because we’ve only seen him in so many game situations. Golson, meanwhile, has looked confident in dealing with pressure. I’ll give Zaire the benefit of the doubt around the pocket and give him a slight advantage overall.
Irish head coach Brian Kelly has discussed how Golson returned to Notre Dame with an improved “conceptual awareness,” something that was lacking at times for him in the passing game.
“If I could give you the best way to explain it, it would be when he would explain his progression, it might take him 10 seconds,” Kelly said. “Well, you’ve got 2.6 seconds to throw the ball. Now, he’s precise in his communication.”
Quicker and more accurate communication should, in theory, lead to better and more clear-minded decision-making.
Zaire, too, has been working on his concision in communication, and quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur said it’s something they’re constantly working on.
Golson fumbled eight times in 2012 and lost four of them, but he only tossed six interceptions. Those numbers could increase if Golson is given freer reign of the offense than he had as a sophomore, but overall, the added experience should help.
Golson has a season’s worth of experience as the starting quarterback. Zaire has a season’s worth of experience practicing with the young wide receivers.
Golson started in 2012, but the crop of pass-catchers was much different that season than what is currently on Notre Dame’s roster. Golson himself has admitted that it has taken time to sync up with his receivers, and that’s to be expected.
Zaire gets the experience edge in terms of his connection and chemistry with the current receivers, especially fellow sophomores like Will Fuller, Corey Robinson and Torii Hunter Jr.
But it’s too difficult to overlook Golson’s 11 career starts and the experience gained from those. While Zaire said he has learned the importance of mental reps, Golson has received those plus all the actual in-game reps.
Golson discounts the rust factor, but his experience as the starter would seem to be somewhat dulled by the season away from Notre Dame.
In the end, though, Golson’s form of experience still wins out.
In talking to players and coaches throughout the spring, team leadership is something that will fully come with time, likely during the summer. Still, it doesn’t hurt Golson’s case that he directed Notre Dame to the BCS National Championship Game as a sophomore.
Zaire, meanwhile, has made waves with his self-confidence, which could seemingly breed an assertive leader.
That same self-confidence is a check in Zaire’s favor, but we cannot discount the “unfinished business” factor for Golson. He missed the entire season, and the Irish struggled to a 9-4 record. In his first media appearance since returning, Golson spoke about coming back to finish what he started.
That motivation could propel him.
Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.