By Tom Coyne
AP Sports Writer
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Quarterback DeShone Kizer isn’t surprised that after he saved Notre Dame’s season last fall by leading the Fighting Irish to 10 victories, a Fiesta Bowl berth and a No. 11 ranking, he still finds himself competing with Malik Zaire and Brandon Wimbush for the starter’s job.
“The way coach approaches every offseason is there’s no position that’s handed to anyone,” he said. “So there’s going to be competition no matter what.”
Kizer, who impressed last season with his calm demeanor and cool under fire, is taking the same approach to spring. He said he doesn’t feel any frustration that his performance last season wasn’t enough to earn the starter’s job.
“I never expect the job to be guaranteed,” he said. “For some reason with me, I’ve never been in a position where I was going to continue to walk into a season and just automatically have the job.”
It’s a starkly different attitude from Zaire, who has said he wonders what he needs to do to be declared the starter. Zaire was the starter when last season began but broke his right ankle in the second game. Kizer came in and rallied Notre Dame to victory, throwing a 40-yard touchdown pass with 12 seconds left to beat Virginia 34-27.
Coach Brian Kelly said when spring practice began it would be a three-man competition, but he said this week that Wimbush isn’t getting as many snaps with the starters as Kizer and Zaire. Kelly also said Zaire was “rusty” in terms of his game management, but Kizer was doing well there.
“We have to keep tightening him up mechanically,” Kelly said.
Kizer, who has three seasons of eligibility left, last season completed 211 of 335 passes for 2,884 yards and 21 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. Kizer said he isn’t worried about how he’s doing compared with Zaire and Wimbush, saying if he continues to improve he should “have another opportunity to step out back on the field.”
Kizer believes he needs to improve on his consistency and on his balance in the pocket. He also believes he threw too many passes in the dirt last season. He said playing against Ohio State’s defense in the Fiesta Bowl was an eye opener.
“I was in the pocket and I could feel guys all over me. There was a different type of feeling I didn’t have all season,” he said. “I’m going to be able to learn from that and understand that when you play in big games like that against great teams at the national championship caliber, that you’re going to have to make plays in situations you’re not completely comfortable in.”
As for his current situation, Kizer said he’s completely comfortable. He said he’s not worried about the quarterback competition being divisive for the team.
“Part of being a quarterback is knowing how to lead and understanding the guys around you,” Kizer said. “Malik has good relationships with a lot of the guys and Brandon has really taken over his class. But at the end of the day, you have to be able to take the relationships you have and the knowledge you have of each person on the team and be able to lead through that.”
Kizer said he’s taking the competition day by day, knowing Zaire and Wimbush are pushing him.
“We’re in position I’m going to compete my butt off and try to develop and put myself in a position where I can do some of the things I did last year and hopefully improve on those,” he said.