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Notre Dame QB race: Precocious Brandon Wimbush looks to be a factor

Who will start at quarterback for the Irish this season? It's still a three-man race. Get to know the other candidates: Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Brandon Wimbush may have been a sophomore meeting with the media for the first time Friday, but the Notre Dame quarterback had all the savvy of a seasoned upperclassmen when asked the most imminent question surrounding his upcoming season.

Did coach Brian Kelly’s redshirt announcement last month catch Wimbush off-guard? Did Wimbush change his mind on that stance, which Kelly publicly softened on at the start of spring?

“Um, I’ll pass on that,” the 6-foot-1, 216-pound Wimbush said with a laugh.

Ideally, that redshirt deal would have been taken care of last year, when Wimbush was third-in-line in the Irish’s QB derby before Malik Zaire’s ankle injury. But the domino effect of that early-season adversity fast-tracked Wimbush to the No. 2 role, leaving that redshirt option out there this fall should redshirt sophomore DeShone Kizer and the redshirt junior Zaire distance themselves from Wimbush this offseason.

Not so fast, Kelly says.

“As we've gotten a chance to assess his situation, we want to give him a chance to compete, as well,” the seventh-year Irish coach said of Wimbush. “We think he's extremely talented, so he'll be given the opportunity to compete, as well, and have a chance to break through, as well.”

The most ballyhooed recruit among the Irish’s signal callers, Wimbush appeared in just two games last year, completing 3 of 5 passes for 17 yards while rushing for 96 yards and a touchdown. A former ESPN300 recruit, Wimbush has impressed his teammates and coaches with his arm strength, along with his maturity.

“It was a little sprinkle of what I could do,” Wimbush said of 2015. “The coaching staff obviously knows what I can do. They put me out there, they trusted my abilities. And I think I took care of business.”

But is it enough to leapfrog two guys with a combined 14 games as starters (and an 11-3 record, no less)? Wimbush spoke openly of the experience advantage that Kizer and Zaire have over him, and he knows he must take advantage of every opportunity he gets this spring. He pointed to the speed of the college game as the biggest adjustment for him last year, but he said that his pocket presence and recognition of defenses are the areas in which he has grown the most in his first year on campus.

If he learned anything from these past nine months since enrolling, it is to be ready when his number is called. After all, Wimbush will enter this fall with the slightly more experience than Kizer had before the latter was thrust into the spotlight last season.

“He didn’t know what his situation was going to be coming into the fall,” Wimbush said of Kizer. “He prepared to be the starter and I take into that mind-set and follow his footsteps in how he went about his business. Hopefully I’ll have the same opportunity in the next couple of years to show my ability.”

And if that opportunity doesn’t come in the immediate future, well, Wimbush is ready to accept that fate, too, much in the same way the two guys ahead of him did in their early college years.

“Of course, it would give me another year to learn the offense to the point where I’m comfortable with everything,” Wimbush said of potentially accepting a redshirt option. “Redshirting is obviously not a bad choice for me as a second-year quarterback -- to be behind those guys again, because they obviously have experience. They’ve been here for a little more time than I have. It wouldn’t be so bad.”