SOUTH BEND, Indiana — Spring football practice begins at Notre Dame on Wednesday like it has in most of the past five years under Brian Kelly, with a looming question about who will start at quarterback.
The competition this season is the same as last, pitting veteran Everett Golson vs. inexperienced Malik Zaire. The difference this season is Zaire has some momentum on his side after replacing Golson in the regular-season finale against USC and starting as the Irish upset No. 22 LSU 31-28 in the Music City Bowl in a game where both played and had roles in setting up the game-winning field goal.
Kelly said Tuesday he doesn't know how long it will take to select a starter.
"Once we see how they're going to compete, I think we'll have a better understanding of answering that question," Kelly said.
There was a media report this winter that Golson might consider going to another school for his final season after graduating from Notre Dame in May. Kelly was asked if he felt he needed to try to persuade Golson to come back or to accept sharing quarterback duties. Kelly said the only thing he's told Golson is he needs to be ready to compete.
"He has bought in 100 percent to competing for the quarterback position here at Notre Dame. Now, whatever that ends up being, if that end result is he's the backup or that he's the sole starter or that he's sharing time, he has no control over that. What he has control over is that he's committed to competing for the job."
The biggest improvement Kelly is looking for in Golson is that he's more disciplined and cuts down on the 22 turnovers he had last season that were factors in Notre Dame (8-5) losing five of their last six regular-season games.
Zaire, who has shown he is better at the rear-option, needs to show better dedication and focus to practice.
"He has to continue to show that he has not only game-day skills, but the practice skills necessary to lead our football team," Kelly said. "Now, look, we may have gotten to Malik a little bit sooner if we had seen some of the natural leadership abilities that he showed on the sideline during the LSU game, if we had seen those things during practice."
Kelly said for the first time since arriving at Notre Dame the Irish have enough depth that he doesn't have to worry about "tiptoeing" in spring practice at a certain position because of a lack of depth.
"This is the first time since I've been here where I feel like I can go into practice and I can bang around," he said.
NOTES: Kelly said cornerback KeiVarae Russell, who was dismissed from school last fall after being investigated for possible academic dishonesty, is making progress academically and hopes to be back at Notre Dame this summer. Kelly said he couldn't say for sure whether defensive lineman Ishaq Williams will be back. ... Kelly said he couldn't explain why Matt Hegarty, who started 11 games last season, has decided to play elsewhere after he graduates in May. Kelly said he expected Hegarty to start at left guard. Kelly said cornerback Jalen Brown wasn't offered a fifth-year of eligibility. Linebacker Ben Councell, who had a year of eligibility left, opted not to return for a fifth-year.
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