SOUTH BEND – Lost in the never-ending debate as to which quarterback Notre Dame should play this season is the most highly-regarded of the four candidates, freshman Gunner Kiel.
Currently, junior Andrew Hendrix and sophomore Everett Golson are battling for the starting job, while returning starter junior Tommy Rees sits backs and watches due to his one-game suspension following his arrest last May. However, where is the nation's highest-rated quarterback this past spring exactly? He's behind the more experienced bunch, but surprisingly, he's not as far back as the Irish Nation might have thought.
“Gunner had a really nice scrimmage (Saturday),” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “He continues to do really good things. But he's got to catch-up with the knowledge base of the other two kids.”
Kiel got a jump on learning Kelly's offense by enrolling last January instead of arriving on campus in May. That enabled the nation's highest-rated quarterback in the 2012 class to not only begin learning the offense, but get into the weight room and compete during spring drills as well. In those drills and in the weight room, the freshman hasn't disappointed anyone.
“Physically, Gunner has all of the skills,” Kelly said. “(Knowledge base) is where there is a little bit of a separation. But I said this to the other coaches, if I didn't have Andrew and Everett, I would not be afraid of playing Gunner Kiel. I really wouldn't”
The 6-foot-4 Kiel towers over the 6-foot Golson and outweighs him by 25 pounds. He is also taller than the 6-foot-2 Hendrix and is more of a traditional drop-back, can-see-himself-in-the-NFL type of quarterback than Hendrix is.
“Gunner has all of the intangibles that you are looking for,” Kelly said.
Having said all of that, Kiel will more than likely not see the field this season unless there is an unmitigated disaster of a start and Kelly elects to begin building for 2013.
The third-year coach announced Saturday that both Hendrix and Golson have improved to the point that both “have begun to display the skills necessary, not just physical skills, but the mental skills necessary to be the starter.”
Kelly emphasized that neither has separated from the other, but both are progressing in their development and he has been really pleased with the progress of the two players.
“You never know that (they will develop),” Kelly said. “You hope that, but you never know that until you go out and practice and get a chance to see them in different situations. But both of them have the skills necessary and now it's honing those skills and building on what we did this past week.”
Earlier in training camp, Kelly said that he would like to have one guy in place at quarterback prior to game week (The Fighting Irish will play Navy on Sept. 1). However, he isn't sure that he'll have a definitive answer anytime soon after watching Hendrix and Golson through the first week of camp.
“I haven't thought about timetables as much as what is the next thing that we need to focus on,” Kelly said. “Installation of the offense is still going in. I've never thought that you could make a decision on a quarterback until you get your installation taken care of. It will be through next week relative to cleaning up and finishing up our installation and then you start to look at is there separation? But I think this is going to require all of the 29 practice opportunities that we'll have. I would not be holding your breath for an announcement anytime soon.”