SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- A thin depth chart triggered by the departures of Gunner Kiel and Everett Golson means Notre Dame's next prized young quarterback will be thrown into the fire this fall.
That doesn't mean Malik Zaire will definitely take the field for one of Notre Dame's 12 regular season games, but the freshman's absence from the Irish scout team is a good indicator he'll have to be ready to contribute this fall.
"We want to keep him with us," coach Brian Kelly said, referring to his starters. "That's important. He needs to get that firsthand knowledge of the offense and defense, see the college game. It's very important for us to keep him."
As opposed to in years past, when deeper depth charts allowed Kiel and Golson to run the scout team in their freshman seasons, Zaire has to be ready as one of three scholarship quarterbacks on the Irish roster. He enrolled early -- before Kiel transferred and Golson was expelled -- and saw plenty of playing time in April's Blue-Gold scrimmage, in which he connected with C.J. Prosise for the only touchdown of the day.
Zaire, rated as the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback in the prep class of 2013 by Rivals.com, won't get as many reps as starter Tommy Rees or backup Andrew Hendrix, but Kelly expects to get him in the mix. There's a fairly easy path for him to get on the field, too: If Hendrix, for example, gets injured and Rees' helmet pops off, Zaire would be the guy to come in for a play, unless Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin decide to throw in walk-on Charlie Fiessinger.
The problem there is if Zaire plays this year, he'll burn a year of eligibility. With Golson expected back for 2014 and perhaps 2015, that'd mean Zaire may not have a chance to start until his final year on campus in 2016. Keeping him on the sidelines in 2013 could give him two years to start if Golson decides to stick around for 2015.
The immediate needs of the 2013 team, though, involve getting Zaire to be game-ready. It also means Kelly will have to scramble to find someone to run the scout team.
"We have to find alternatives within the program," Kelly said. "We're on the waiver wire. We're looking carefully. We made the calls to the dorms. But we'll solve that internally."