SOUTH BEND, Indiana — Coach Brian Kelly is heading into preseason workouts without knowing who will start at quarterback for Notre Dame, insisting it's not the foregone conclusion many believe.
"I'm not playing a game where we're trying to create artificial competition within the ranks," he said at a news conference Friday. "I think we have competition for that particular role to show itself. I think it can show itself. When it does, we'll be ready to make that declaration. It just hasn't shown itself yet."
Everett Golson, who helped the Irish get to the national championship game in 2012 before being suspended last season for academic impropriety, failed to regain the starting spot in the spring. In fact, Malik Zaire, who didn't play last season as a freshman, outplayed Golson in the spring game. Zaire completed 18 of 27 passes for 292 yards and two touchdowns, while Golson completed 13 of 23 passes for 154 yards.
Kelly said he's looking for a quarterback who is consistent, shows great leadership and has "the ability to take you to a championship."
"If that guy shows himself, I'm ready to name him that quarterback on that day," Kelly said.
Kelly was asked whether that would make Golson the obvious choice, since he led the Irish to the title game against Alabama two years ago.
"I would argue that Everett rode the bus to the championship," he said.
An outstanding defense, led by linebacker Manti Te'o, drove that Irish team to an undefeated regular season. The Irish are inexperienced on defense this season, though, and Kelly concedes they may need to score more.
"We're going to have to be more productive offensively than we have been," he said.
Notre Dame ranked 67th in the nation last season in total offense at 406 yards a game, going 9-4, and in four seasons under Kelly has ended in the top 50 in total offense only once, finishing 35th in 2011.
This season marks the third time in the past four years Notre Dame heads into preseason workouts without knowing who is going to start at quarterback. The advantage this time, though, is Golson and Zaire play similar styles, so Kelly doesn't need two separate sets of plays.
"That is a huge advantage in terms of building that consistency throughout the ranks for everybody, from the offensive line, for the receivers, to the quarterback," he said.
Kelly said he's pleased with the progress both players have shown. Golson knows the playbook well, but needs a better understanding of what the offense is trying to accomplish, Kelly said.
Zaire needs to avoid making freshman mistakes, Kelly said.
"I think Malik has the ability to play winning football for us. I want him to play championship football for us. There's a level he has to get to," he said.
The Irish start practicing Monday at Culver Academies, a private high school about 40 miles south of South Bend.
Notes: Kelly said defensive lineman Tony Springmann is done playing football because of a back injury. The senior from Fort Wayne, who missed last season with a knee injury, was expected to add depth along a defensive line that lost several key players last season. Kelly also said tight end Mike Heuerman had hernia surgery recently and will be out about a month.