Notre Dame football fans probably won't see Malik Zaire get on the field until 2014 at the earliest – and perhaps never. However, Fighting Irish football coach Brian Kelly won't be agreeing with that assessment anytime soon. The fourth-year coach has really liked what he has seen from the quarterback that ought to be getting ready for his senior prom right now, not getting reps behind the Notre Dame offensive line.
“From the mental end of things, Malik is in the top group of guys that I've coached,” Kelly said. “He really understands the nuances of the position.”
Zaire first made an impression on Kelly when he looked at the Fighting Irish depth chart at the position and saw returning starter Everett Golson, veteran starter Tommy Rees, senior Andrew Hendrix and heralded quarterback recruit Gunner Kiel - and he signed with Notre Dame anyway.
Kelly wasn't sure what to make of the confident young man, but on a recruiting visit, the Irish coaches put Zaire into a meeting room with the Notre Dame quarterbacks and he wasn't out of place from a knowledge standpoint.
“It was evident to me that he had a pretty good mind,” Kelly said. “He was able to engage in the conversation in terms of what we were talking about. I had a good feeling early on.”
Zaire may see some repetitions during the Blue-Gold Spring Game (April 20, 1 p.m.), but will more than likely spend next fall running the scout team, as Golson and Kiel (who transferred to Cincinnati this week) did during their first years.
“We've got to tighten him up,” Kelly said. “He needs a quicker release (and) we'll work on his footwork. Those are things that we (also) have to work on with Everett. But Malik really has a good mind for the game.”
Kelly limited the offense to a degree with Golson playing last fall, as opposed to what he could do with Rees the year prior. Golson is showing “growth” according to Kelly, but Zaire has also readily picked up some of the more difficult tasks already for his position.
“Malik can understand coverages,” Kelly said, “rotations and pressures and moving keys and things like that. He's really at a high level there.”