Spring Preview: Quarterback
Notre Dame will enter the 2020 with certainty at the top of the quarterback depth chart, but behind it there are questions that must be asked.
Fortunately, all three scholarship quarterbacks will be on campus this spring, so we’ll get our first glimpse at what the 2020 depth chart will look like.
SPRING DEPTH CHART
The focus of this spring will be about Ian Book taking his game, and his leadership, to a higher level. Book wants to lead the offense to greater heights, and that means he needs to take his game to greater heights. It means becoming more confident, and drowning out the noise and criticism. A great quarterback needs to not allow criticism to impact him the way it seemed to impact Book this past season.
A quarterback that is drowning out the noise doesn’t shush his home crowd when scoring a touchdown late in the game. He’s more concerned about winning and less concerned about the criticism. A quarterback with greater confidence does not look as rushed as Book does in the big moments.
Book and head coach Brian Kelly both react too much to outside criticism, and the more they brush that off and focus on the prize - which is a national title - the better off they will be.
So how will we know Book is getting to that point this spring? Well, we won’t. For Book we won’t really know how his game has developed and how his leadership has developed until we see him perform against teams like Wisconsin, Pittsburgh, USC and of course, Clemson, among others.
But there is one thing I’d like to see from Book this spring.
I know, that sounds crazy, but hear me out. Book has the physical tools to be an elite quarterback at the college level, I truly believe that. His arm is stronger than people think and he’s a very good athlete. His issue has always been mental. First it was inexperience, now it’s an unwillingness to be aggressive and what seems to be a fear of making mistakes that causes him to avoid certain parts of the field in big games.
When you have 23 starts under your belt the spring needs to be about building on your game, so I don’t care if he’s completing 80-percent of his passes in the spring by throwing a million check downs and crossing routes and quick option throws and other easy throws we know he can make.
I want to see Book pushing himself. I want to see him attempting tougher throws, I want to see him challenging himself, I want to see him attacking down the field more. There’s a strategic reason for this. Book needs to really push himself and find out what kinds of throws he can and can’t make. I want Book to find out what kinds of throws he might need to adjust his timing, or arc, or other adjustments in order to make certain throws.
This is going to result in him having days where he throws a lot more incompletions, and then seeing the film and making adjustments. The more he does this in practice the more comfortable he will be at making these tougher throws when games start, and that is where his game needs to grow.
A spring like that will serve to help Book improve his game, but will also help him push the wide receivers and tight ends to make tougher catches. All of it serves to make Book, and everyone around him, better. This is especially important when you consider so many young wide receivers and tight ends are being thrust into key roles. Some have experience working with Book, but none have ever been “the guy” in the offense, and none have earned Book’s trust, which is why he so infrequently targeted them last season.
If we see this kind of spring from Book it will serve as a foundation to a much better final season for him and the offense.
BABY STEPS THIS SPRING WITH CLARK
One of my concerns with quarterback Brendon Clark is that him now sliding unchallenged into the backup role will result in him, or the coaches, pushing too much this spring. I know there is a need for Clark to get to the point where he can run the offense should his number get called, but that's not what the spring needs to be about with him.
I talked about this in a video in yesterday’s mailbag, and I included that video at the top of this breakdown as well. Clark is very talented, possessing a strong right arm, and he’s an impressive athlete that can make plays with his legs as well. The spring needs to be about building up his mechanics and his confidence.
Young quarterbacks can struggle when they have too much scheme and big picture aspects of playing quarterback placed on their shoulders while they are still trying to figure out things like footwork, drop mechanics, developing a consistent release point and run game mechanics. What tends to happen is the fundamental aspects go out the window, which can cause erratic play.
Even worse, it can diminish a player's confidence.
If it were up to me, the package I would give Clark this spring from a scheme standpoint would be limited. My focus would be about building up his fundamental foundation and giving him a smaller part of the offense that he can master. Focusing on those two areas will result in Clark building a lot more confidence in himself and the system.
The summer can be used to build upon that foundation, and then when the Irish get to the fall there’s a strong base to build upon. When you start to put more scheme and more reads and a faster tempo on him the fundamentals will now be more second nature and he can focus on the mental part.
FIRST LOOK AT DREW PYNE
Getting freshman Drew Pyne on campus early is important for him and the quarterback depth chart. Pyne is the opposite of Clark in that he’s extremely fundamentally sound and smart, but he’ll need to get a lot stronger and master the playbook. Pyne was listed at 6-0 and 181 pounds by Notre Dame on signing day, so the extra time in the weight program should be a major asset.
I wouldn’t mind seeing days where Book gets limited reps and we see Clark and Pyne getting more work in practice, as both could use the extra work this spring. While Pyne doesn’t need the mechanical work that Clark does, starting with a limited package and allowing him to focus on the basics of the system and operation would be a good idea.
I’m curious to see if Pyne has a bit more zip on his ball after a few months in the strength program. When he gets up to speed physically I expect him to quickly prove himself capable of running the offense at a high level due to his competitiveness, intelligence and confidence as a passer.
1. Will Book and the coaches challenge him this spring in an attempt to get his game to develop?
2. How quickly can Book and the younger pass catchers develop a bond?
3. How much growth will we see from Clark this spring?
4. Can Pyne make an early impact and challenge for the backup spot?
5. Will the quarterbacks be more willing to attack the middle of the field and intermediate zones?
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