As we enter the summer months, we wrap up our look at Notre Dame’s quarterback derby by looking at the newest addition to the position: freshman Gunner Kiel. To say Kiel’s road to Notre Dame was wild is an understatement. One of the most highly rated prospects in the country, Kiel initially committed to play for Indiana. After a couple of months however, Kiel began to rethink his pledge and started to look around. The Irish were in the picture, but ultimately Kiel decided LSU was the place for him seemingly ending his recruitment once again. Yet, Kiel never seemed fully comfortable with the decision and on the day he was supposed to move to Baton Rouge, he changed his mind again enrolling at Notre Dame and joining the team for spring practice. He’s an exciting player with a bright future, but will he be the answer this season?
Kiel is a dynamic athlete with a strong arm and an ability to run as well. He’s a great fit for a spread option offense. Maybe not as perfect of a fit as Everett Golson, but he can run the offense with ease. He’s got incredible pedigree as evidenced by his brother Dusty being a former starting quarterback at Indiana and, of course, his uncle Blair a former starting quarterback at Notre Dame in the early 1980s. Let’s not forget Blair started as a true freshman as well.
Kiel is the highest rated recruit in the class of 2012 and the highest rated quarterback prospect on the roster. Just look at his offer list which includes Notre Dame, LSU, Alabama, Oklahoma, Georgia, Michigan, Tennessee, and USC just to name a few. Offers from all of those schools don’t come unless they think a player is truly worthy of the hype. Rivals.com even said Kiel reminds them of Peyton Manning. If he can have a career as good as Manning’s, then his and the Fighting Irish’s future glows extremely bright.
Obviously, there are so many unknowns with Kiel. As a true freshman, he doesn’t have any experience at the collegiate level. Going through a spring practice will certainly help, but that can hardly compare to the level of experience a Tommy Rees or Andrew Hendrix possess. Even Golson having been through two springs and an entire season of learning has a leg up on Kiel. At this point, Kiel is still trying to learn the playbook so to think he can be ready to run a huddle, get the checks and protections correct and make the proper reads in an actual game may be quite a stretch.
Our only tangible view of Kiel came during the Blue-Gold game where we saw him go 5-10 for 57 yards and an interception. He also ran three times for 15 yards. Certainly very pedestrian numbers which came against mostly second, third and fourth stringers. He’ll make a ton of mistakes if he plays this year. Maybe too many to warrant him seeing action.
Gunner Kiel may be the future of Notre Dame football, but I just cannot see him as being the present too. There are three other, frankly better, options on the roster right now and Kiel would benefit from a year to sit and learn. The interesting thing with him will be to see how the three other quarterbacks shake out this season. If Hendrix or Golson wins the job, will they ever give it up? And will Kiel be willing to sit three or four years to play one, maybe two seasons? Kiel can definitely make a mark this year and might have to do so in order to stay in the mix in the years to come. Of course it almost seems inevitable that one or two of the guys ahead of him will either transfer or move positions giving Kiel a clearer path to the starting job. And if Kiel can move up the depth chart this year, he might be the reason for the movement. Regardless of what happens in 2012, Kiel should be here for the long haul and is a valuable insurance policy in the event of a catastrophe at the top of the depth chart.