SOUTH BEND – When coach Brian Kelly talked about incoming freshman quarterback DeShone Kizer this week and the fact that he will finally have three scholarship quarterbacks who all have similar attributes, you could almost hear the exuberance in his voice.
Or perhaps it was relief.
After four years of trying to shoehorn pocket signalcallers into a mobile role and developing multiple offensive schemes to fit different quarterback styles, Kelly and the Fighting Irish finally have symmetry at the position.
Everett Golson, Malik Zaire and Kizer all fit the same mold, the mold that Kelly wants in his leaders behind center: true dual-threat quarterbacks who look to throw first, can scramble and move out of the pocket and take off when needed.
Finally, Kelly has his depth chart at quarterback where he wants it.
“Now we've got three quarterbacks on campus that all do the same things,” Kelly said. “You don't have to adjust your offense. All three of the quarterbacks … all do the same thing.”
It has been a long haul to get to this position for Kelly, who inherited true pocket quarterbacks in Dayne Crist, Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix. Used to having quarterbacks who better fit his system at Cincinnati, Kelly had to improvise and adjust, attempting to put his stamp on the offense but not fully able to do so because of his quarterbacks' limitations.
Things looked continue that way when five-star quarterback Gunner Kiel committed to Notre Dame in the recruiting cycle of 2012. Many considered Kiel, another true pocket passer, the quarterback of the future for the Irish, but Kelly had other ideas.
He instead handed the reins over to Golson in the 2012 season, where Kelly was finally able to unleash the offense he is known for. Suddenly, Notre Dame's offense surged as Golson threw for 2,405 yards and rushed for another 299 yards and six touchdowns.
All seemed well in the quarterback world as Golson was set to return and Zaire was brought in to develop behind him. Then Golson was kicked out of school.
Back to Rees they went, where the limitations were evident. The offense never seemed to be in a rhythm as Kelly had to once again adjust his play calling to fit his quarterback.
Now, finally, those problems are finally gone. Golson, Zaire and now Kizer are the same players in different bodies and sizes. Kelly has always been tough on his quarterbacks, even dangerously so, but he now has three guys who know what he wants to do offensively and are capable of doing it.
“If you come to Notre Dame as the quarterback, you'd better be really confident in your ability because (people) are going to knock you down five pegs every day,” Kelly said. “So you'd better be above that.”
Kelly needs his quarterbacks to be confident, but he himself is now confident that he can run his offense the way he wants no matter which scholarship quarterback is on the field.