Notre Dame's future: QB logjam only gets more crowded

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Notre Dame's future: QB logjam only gets more crowded

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Gunner Kiel sat in the stands at Sun Life Stadium last week and said all the right things. Among them: He's never considered transferring, he's learned a lot while sitting out his freshman season and he's prepared to try to better himself as a quarterback even in the face of a stacked depth chart.

Over the course of his recruitment, Kiel committed to Indiana and LSU before a late switch to Notre Dame. With Everett Golson -- who has three years of eligibility remaining -- quarterbacking Notre Dame to a BCS Championship berth this year, naturally speculation was conjured up that Kiel would consider leaving South Bend for a more secure shot at a starting role.

But if one quote Kiel said was telling, it was when he was asked about some harsh comments made by LSU coach Les Miles after he decommitted.

"I was dumb during the recruiting process," Kiel said. "I couldn't really make up my mind."

If Kiel still holds that same indecisiveness, he didn't show it. He referred to "so many doors" that could open and lead him to a starting position at Notre Dame before Golson's eligibility is exhausted.

"Anything could happen," Kiel said. "He could go to the NFL, you never know. But he could also get hurt, other people could get hurt."

Kiel could also unseat Golson as Notre Dame's starting quarterback.

RELATED: Reconciling BCS loss with 2012 season no easy task for Irish

During the season, coach Brian Kelly said Golson won't be handed his same gig in 2013. He made plenty of strides in 2012, but still has plenty of room to improve.

If those improvements don't come and Kiel proves himself worthy of topping Notre Dame's depth chart, then there's no reason why he wouldn't get the job.

"I'm going to try, but he's a great quarterback," Kiel said of dethroning Golson. "He's going to lead this team, and he's going to keep getting better, so I just need to keep getting better and learn from him and also learn from coach Kelly and just try to keep getting better each day."

Here's a thought, too: Golson's season took off when he gained the confidence of his teammates and coaches, and by extension, wasn't looking over his shoulder to the sidelines to see if Tommy Rees was warming up. How he handles a potential push from Kiel will be interesting, especially if it makes him uncomfortable with his role.

But make no mistake, it's Golson's job to lose. If he does lose it, chances are, it'll be to Kiel.

The forgotten one

Andrew Hendrix saw the field a bit in 2011, filling in for Rees and playing the entire second half of Notre Dame's 28-14 loss to Stanford. Over the course of his sophomore year, Hendrix completed 18-of-37 passes for 249 yards and rushed 25 times for 16 yards.

In 2012, he lost out to Golson for the team's starting gig and barely got on the field, only playing in garbage time against Navy and sparingly against BYU and Wake Forest. On the season, he threw seven passes and rushed eight times.

"He's kind of the glue that keeps us together," Rees said. " He's always there to help, he's always there to provide a laugh if we need it. He's been a great influence on all of us."

While the depth chart for Kiel may seem daunting, climbing it will be even more difficult for Hendrix. He was Notre Dame's No. 3 quarterback in 2012, and with Kiel entering the mix in 2013, he'll likely be bumped to No. 4. In what would be his final season, he might wind up in that same spot.

"After the season, we'll assess that, see where I stand -- I know the coaches will be honest with me, because I know they respect me and think of me as pretty much one of their own kids anyways," Hendrix said last week. "That'll be something that we'll work on after the season."

Of course Hendrix wants to play, but he doesn't sound like someone who has a laser focus on playing at the next level. He's a pre-med student and says that route is what he wants to do, and it was the first thing he brought up when asked about his future at Notre Dame.

"I'm so close to graduating anyways," Hendrix said. "We'll cross that bridge when we get there."

The backup

In three years at Notre Dame, Rees has assumed a starting role, lost it for 30 minutes, assumed it again and lost it three months before having a chance to retain it. From there, the to-be senior served as Brian Kelly and Chuck Martin's safety net, entering four games when it was deemed Golson wasn't good or healthy enough to continue playing.

Rees may see another demotion in 2013, if Kiel ascends to a backup role behind Golson. But perhaps Rees' experience will keep him in the mix if Golson gets hurt -- or loses his helmet, which happened seemingly once a game in 2012.

RELATED: Despite blowout loss, Notre Dame here to stay

Whereas Dayne Crist had the ability to transfer without sitting a year after it became clear he wasn't going to see the field in his final year of eligibility, Rees doesn't have that luxury. If he were to leave Notre Dame, he'd have to sit out 2013 and play in 2014. That's not an easy position, since a lot can change with a team's quarterback situation in a year.

Crist had the advantage of playing for a coach he was familiar with and for a Kansas program that didn't have much talent at the quarterback position. Finding that perfect fit would be difficult, and if Rees were to leave there's a chance he'd wind up in the same predicament he'd be in at Notre Dame.

When asked about going into 2013 as a backup, Rees didn't seem opposed to the idea.

The newcomer

Malik Zaire committed to Notre Dame over offers from programs such as Alabama, Nebraska, Ohio State and Oregon. He'll enroll at Notre Dame this month and carries to campus a four-star rating by Rivals.com, which tabbed him as the No. 3 quarterback in the class of 2013.

The dual-threat quarterback from Kettering, Ohio will likely sit out 2013, allowing him to stay at Notre Dame through 2017.

In a few years, though, would Golson, Kiel and Zaire really want to be on the same roster? If Zaire pans out and all three have next-level aspirations, there just wouldn't be enough opportunities to go around.

The incumbent

Against Alabama, Golson was tasked with handling the entirety of Notre Dame's offense. With Alabama throwing a few early haymakers and possessing an outstanding run defense, Notre Dame's rushing attack never had the chance to get going -- which meant Golson had to pass early and often.

He struggled early but held his own late, although part of that may have had to do with Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart calling off the dogs while the Tide stormed to a four-touchdown lead.

"I'm kind of just taking this game under my belt," Golson said. "I'll just gain the experience from it, and really looking forward to next year knowing that I've got to be more of a leader, and just being more of a leader to this team and trying to make this team better."

Golson completed 21-of-36 passes for 270 yards with a touchdown and an interception in Notre Dame's 42-14 BCS Championship loss. For the season, the first-year starter completed 187-of-318 passes for 2,405 yards with 12 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. He also rushed 94 times for 298 yards and six touchdowns.

That's not a bad starting point, and Golson made plenty of strides from Sept. 1 through Jan. 7. But he'll have to continue to make strides to hold off Kiel, especially in spring ball when Kiel will be given every opportunity to have a breakout performance.

But the No. 1 quarterback job is Golson's to lose. He has the talent to not only hold off Kiel, but be an impact player for the Irish offense over the next few seasons.

And, for what it's worth, he has the endorsement of the coach of college football's most powerful program.

"The guy's a really good player," Alabama coach Nick Saban said last week. "He's a very good athlete, first of all. He can extend plays. He can run. He can scramble. He's not typically a guy that just wants to take off. He's a very effective passer.

"So anybody that thinks he's not capable as a passer is totally missing the boat."

Notre Dame turns to 'Grandpa Av' seeking experience at safety

Notre Dame turns to 'Grandpa Av' seeking experience at safety

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Isaac Rochell joked he’s known sixth-year Irish graduate student Avery Sebastian for “like 10 years, since he’s been in college for like 10 years.”

The Notre Dame defensive end teamed up with Sebastian way back in the fall of 2010 when the pair both played for Eagle’s Landing Christian High School in the Atlanta area. Rochell is now a senior captain, but is by no means the oldest guy on the team — that would be Sebastian, who enrolled at Cal in 2011. 

“Every day with mess with Avery about his age,” Rochell said. “… One thing (defensive coordinator Brian) VanGorder always says is a player isn’t his best until he’s 25. Avery’s not 25 — but we’re always like, that’s Avery right now.”

Gentle ribbing aside, Notre Dame will be counting on the elder statesman of its defense quite a bit when it takes the field Sunday night to face Texas at Darrell K. Royal Stadium in Austin. Freshman Devin Studstill may be Notre Dame’s free safety of the future, but in the present, Kelly & Co. are turning to Sebastian — a more natural in-the-box strong safety — to replace dismissed two-year starter Max Redfield. 

“He's assignment correct, he makes very few errors, and that's what we like,” Kelly said. “We have two performers back there in (Drue) Tranquill and Sebastian that are assignment correct.

“Now, do they have the range maybe at times that we'd like? Probably not. But they do a lot of really good things for us, and they can play the kind of defense that we need to to be successful. So where maybe they lack some of the range of the younger players who will play and play considerable roles, they're rock solid and they're veteran players.”

The back end of Notre Dame’s defense has been plagued by errors over the last two seasons, which directly contributed to opponents racking up 30 plays of 30 or more yards against the Irish in 2015 (85th in FBS). Redfield and Elijah Shumate were an athletic duo but committed far too many errors in VanGorder’s complex scheme. 

So Tranquill and Sebastian represent a departure from Redfield and Shumate in the sense that Notre Dame could be trading recruiting stars for fewer communication errors. It’s perhaps not ideal — having Redfield, who was formally charged with illegal possession of a firearm this week, back there would’ve been — but it’s what coaches view as the best option for the team heading into the season. 

“That’s one of the things that we try and emphasize is, you never know when your last day is going to be and somebody’s going to have to step up,” senior cornerback Cole Luke said. “You can’t play with one safety. And Avery’s done a good job of stepping up and doing what he has to do.” 

Sebastian missed all but a handful of plays in the 2015 season after breaking a bone in his foot in Notre Dame’s opener against Texas. He started seven games during his tenure at Cal (2011-2014) and has been around for so long that other members of his recruiting class included Stephon Tuitt, Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, Sammy Watkins and Odell Beckham Jr., among others. 

Or, to put it another way: Studstill was starting eighth grade when Sebastian began his college career. 

Studstill, who enrolled early in January, had an impressive showing during spring practice but missed a good chunk of August camp due to a hamstring injury. That knock set him back, Kelly noted, but Notre Dame still probably would’ve gone with Sebastian to start given the experience gap between the two. 

“I think if Devin was clearly ahead of Sebastian, we'd have Devin on the field over Sebastian,” Kelly said. “But Sebastian's had a good camp. He's been really rock solid.

“… You want to try to keep as many veterans in that starting role as possible and let those younger guys work their way into the lineup. But more than anything else, Devin put himself a little behind with the injury. He didn't put himself behind, but the injury caused him to be a little bit behind. But he's made up a lot of ground in a very short period.”

Chances are Studstill, along with fellow freshmen safeties Jalen Elliott, D.J. Morgan and Spencer Perry, will all play against Texas and throughout the season. But asking a true freshman to start in front of 100,000 people in his first college game could’ve been problematic. 

So Sebastian will get the start, and Notre Dame will hope he can hold his own at free safety — and maybe avoid some of those crippling mistakes made by his predecessors. 

“We call him the Grandpa, Grandpa Av,” Luke said. “He’s been around. He’s been in multiple system, he’s seen multiple looks. He just has that knowledge and that wisdom that you would expect him to have.” 

Complete Traveler's Guide to Austin for Notre Dame vs. Texas

Complete Traveler's Guide to Austin for Notre Dame vs. Texas

*Author’s Note*

Hello all, this is my first official article for CSNChicago.com, and what better way than by telling you about places in Austin for those traveling to Texas to watch the Fighting Irish play the Longhorns? While the video segment — check it out above — from JJ Stankevitz and I was more focused on tacos and humor, here are some more places to use as a reference guide for visiting the lovely city in Central Texas.

Breakfast/Brunch

Whole Foods Flagship, 6th and Lamar: breakfast tacos, and a general odyssey of food with built-in restaurants and fun stuff, along with Austin souvenirs.

South Congress Café: you have not had Migas until you’ve had these.

Juan in a Million: the famous “Don Juan” breakfast taco is the mother of them all. Expect a wait but prepare to be amazed. Order one with extra tortillas. Just trust me.

[RELATED: Notre Dame adjusts to schedule disruption of Sunday opener]

Tex-Mex

Matt’s El Rancho: home to the mother of all queso, the “Bob Armstrong Dip.”

La Condesa: it’s one of those cool kid spots. You’ll feel cool.

Fonda San Miguel: a favorite amongst Austinites for its more authentic fare. Excellent brunch as well.

Torchy’s Tacos: their creative tacos leave you wanting unlimited space for a variety of tacos, from breakfast to dinner. Their queso is also excellent.

Barbecue

Lambert’s: a more formal setting in downtown Austin.

Rudy’s: the opposite of Lambert's, informal fast barbecue served on butcher paper.

Franklin Barbecue: be prepared to get in line as early as 6 a.m. for this popular restaurant, which sells out fast.

The Salt Lick: it needs no introduction but it’s amazing. The original location is about 45 minutes west of Austin, and there’s one in Round Rock too, near the Dell Diamond.

Other Restaurants

Sophia: located in the former Bess Bistro spot on West 6th street, this new and inventive Italian restaurant is run by the BDG group from Chicago and features the executive chef of Prosecco in Chicago heading up cuisine.

Galaxy Café/Zocalo: a pair of quick and tasty restaurants just west of downtown Austin.

Whataburger: it’s not in Chicago. The burgers are great. Breakfast starts at 11 p.m. Look into the taquitos.  

[SHOP NOTRE DAME: Get your Fighting Irish gear right here]

Places!

Sixth Street, just east of downtown, west of I-35: home to many college bars. It’s what people think of when they think of 6th street in Austin. The natives call it “Dirty Sixth.”

West Sixth Street: this is considered the more “mature” side of 6th street. Lots of bars as well, just a little older on average than “Dirty Sixth.”

East Sixth Street: the cool kids go there. I’d say “hipster” but that’s not doing it justice. It’s a growing district with great restaurants as well.

South Congress: home to the aforementioned South Congress Café. It also features Allen’s Boots — mentioned in video — along with a variety of shops and restaurants and a very scenic stroll with the Capital Building in the distance. The Congress Avenue Bridge is home to many bats, which you can see emerge at sunset to go eat mosquitos. Hopefully lots of mosquitos.

Barton Springs: a natural swimming hole in the middle of town, this spring-fed pool is an oasis.

Zilker Park: not the only oasis in downtown Austin! Zilker Park is home to countless events and people wanting some daily recreation.

Lady Bird Lake Trail: the trail around the “lake” in downtown Austin is a favorite for runners, walkers and bikers alike.

Rainey Street: a growing spot just east of downtown which is home to a variety of bars and restaurants.

The Dell Diamond: home to the Round Rock Express, the enjoyable minor league park hosts the Texas Rangers’ Triple-A club and is a good place for Cubs fans to get their revenge for Longhorns singing “Texas Fight” at Wrigley last year.

These are just a few of my recommendations in Austin. Enjoy and have a great time.

Mike Tirico and Dhani Jones join Notre Dame's NBC broadcast team

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USA Today Sports Images

Mike Tirico and Dhani Jones join Notre Dame's NBC broadcast team

Newly acquired NBC analyst Mike Tirico will serve as the play-by-play commentator for three Notre Dame games this season, NBC Sports announced Tuesday.

Tirico, who left ESPN after 25 years and joined NBC in May, will call Notre Dame's games against Nevada, Michigan State and Duke in September.

Lead announcer Dan Hicks will be on assignment for NBC Sports' coverage of the Fed-Ex Cup Playoffs. Hicks will return to his post for Notre Dame's final four home games of the season, including Stanford, Miami, Army and Virginia Tech.

After his time covering Notre Dame, Tirico will serve as the host of NBC's Football Night in America.

It was also announced that Dhani Jones will join the NBC pregame and halftime analyst Liam McHugh. Jones spent 11 seasons in the NFL after playing linebacker for the University of Michigan.