Adam Poltrack

Golson 2.0: Can QB Change Ignite Irish Offense?

Created on Mar. 27, 2014 10:53 PM EST

Tommy Rees rolls right, patting the pigskin while peering downfield at his blanketed receiving corps. A window opens briefly, but as it does, he begins to feel the backside corner closing in. Gracefully, instinctively, he pirouettes, reversing field and jetting back across the formation. The middle linebacker, spying on the play, anticipates him, and barrels into the backfield with a full head of steam. Coolly, Rees squares his shoulders, pump fakes the backer off his feet, and scampers into the open field. Fifteen yards later, he picks up the third-and-long. He slides just under the deep safety's tackle attempt, brushes a few blades of grass off his gold pants, flips the ball to the ref … and then wakes up.

Rees has been called many things in his 21-plus years on this earth. A scrambler is not one of them. Neither is mobile, agile, fleet-footed, or any other superlative one might use to describe a quarterback capable of unmooring from the pocket. Whether you’re a Rees guy or not, he’s proven himself to be a one-trick quarterback, which makes him the wrong quarterback for Brian Kelly’s system. You simply can’t run a read-option spread offense with a quarterback who poses zero threat with his legs.

Everett Golson, on the other hand, seems to be the archetypal Brian Kelly quarterback, save for his apparent lack of academic scruples. He can throw, he can run, he can throw on the run, and he showed enough poise as a redshirt freshman to shepherd his squad to a national championship appearance.

With half the playbook unearthed from the scrap heap and No. 5 back at the helm, improvement on offense should be a forgone conclusion. But of course it’s not that simple.

Sure, having the right signal-caller is crucial, but having a strong supporting cast is equally vital. While the Irish are brimful of potential at the skill positions, they’re virtually devoid of established stars. With Troy Niklas, T.J. Jones and George Atkinson III all departed, there's far too much uncertainty. Who will Golson throw to, hand off to and fake to? Not to mention who will protect him? A stout offensive line kept Rees off his back for most of last season, but that chain lost its strongest link when OT Zack Martin graduated.

And so — much like it did in spring of 2012 — it comes down to the quarterback. An improved Golson would be dynamic enough to juke, shimmy and steer his young team around the bumps in the road. But if he is the same player he was his freshman year — the guy who missed reads, shied away from throws over the middle and sometimes was careless with the ball, the echoes might be put to bed once more.

Before Notre Dame’s big win over Oklahoma back in 2012, ABC's Heather Cox asked Kelly what he had said to his freshman quarterback in the lead-up to kickoff. Smiling coyly, Kelly replied, “he’s got a lot of art in him, doesn’t have as much science, I said go put it together tonight and go have fun.” The artist emerged that night in Norman, but we’re all still waiting for his Pièce de résistance.

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