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Irish QB Malik Zaire Talks, Walks Big

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Here, Everett Golson looks like the de facto starter at quarterback, but freshman Malik Zaire could give him a run for his money. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images.
Here, Everett Golson looks like the de facto starter at quarterback, but freshman Malik Zaire could give him a run for his money. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images.

We thought the Fighting Irish had settled their starting quarterback spat. Everett Golson, despite missing a full year due to academic violations, was considered the de facto starter. After all, he had led the team to a 12-0 regular season record and a National Championship appearance as a redshirt freshman.

So when upstart freshman Malik Zaire started chirping about supplanting Golson, no one gave it much credence.

"Without a doubt," Zaire told the Associated Press. "There will only be be one guy starting ... and I believe that will be me."

You could wave off that kind of bigheadedness as a young man's pride. But a funny thing happened in Notre Dame’s annual spring football game — Zaire walked the walk.

Zaire went 18-for-27 for 292 yards and two touchdowns in the game, including a 47-yard strike to Chris Brown, but it wasn’t his stat line that stood out. He showed the poise and confidence of a rightful starter. The moment wasn’t too big, the game wasn’t sped up; heck, he looked more like the headlights than the deer.

The most impressive moment came in the red zone when he rifled an NFL-caliber throw through traffic to connect with Amir Carlisle for six. Saying Carlisle caught the pass would be a bit misleading; he practically got impaled by it, right between the numbers. You don't see that kind of ball from a freshman.

On the flip side, we didn’t see anything like that from Golson. Sure, it was only one spring game, but for all intents and purposes Zaire outplayed his more seasoned counterpart.

At that point, it became difficult for me to dismiss Zaire's cocky jaw-flapping and immature bravado. It was beginning to look like the kind of confidence that coaches look for in a signal-caller. “I’m good and I know it” plays a bit better when you are good and you show it.

Will Zaire do enough to wrest the starting job from Golson? Probably not. But it’s pretty likely that he’ll challenge him for it — and that’s a good thing. The crucible of competition should push both guys to hone their respective skill sets, and what the Irish could end up with is a battle-tested starter and an heir-apparent backup.

Head coach Brian Kelly has talked a great deal about depth since arriving in South Bend. He knows that competing with the Alabamas of the world is about more than just a great core of starters; it’s about having guys on the bench that would be starting most anywhere and having them ready to answer the bell.

As Zaire continues to develop over the next four months, he will be ready. And while he may be on the sideline relaying signals, he’ll have his helmet close by.