SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Quarterback Everett Golson is back at Notre Dame stronger, sturdier and with a much better understanding of offensive concepts than when he led the Fighting Irish to the national championship game more than a year ago, coach Brian Kelly said Friday.
"I can talk to him about things that I didn't believe I could talk to him about relative to protections, hot routes, just the nuances of the game. So clearly he has evolved there," Kelly said.
All of this even though Golson missed last season altogether while serving a semester-long suspension for academic impropriety,
What Kelly doesn't know yet is how that knowledge will translate onto the field. He won't see Golson throw a pass until spring practice begins on Monday. Kelly said one of the biggest things he's seeking from Golson is consistency.
"He hasn't shown that yet," he said.
Golson, who has two years of eligibility remaining, spent part of his suspension training in San Diego under quarterback coach George Whitfield. While many expect him to be the starting quarterback when the Irish open the season against Rice on Aug. 30, Kelly has repeatedly said he isn't handing the job to Golson.
Kelly is hoping Malik Zaire, a freshman who didn't play last season, will challenge Golson.
"It's a huge spring for Malik Zaire. Huge," Kelly said. "He's got to step up. He's got to show a maturity level in terms of leadership, taking over the offense, and he's got to practice as if he's the starter. ... He's got to practice with the vision of him being the starter against Rice."
Kelly announced several position changes, including moving wide receiver James Onwualu to safety and Matthias Farley, who started 19 games at safety the past two seasons, switching to cornerback. The Irish could have as many as four corners on the field at a time next season, Kelly said. He also said running back Amir Carlisle, who carried the ball only 17 times for 57 yards after a key fumble against Purdue, will be working at slot receiver.
Other positions of concern for the Irish are at defensive line, where the Irish lost starters Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt, and inside linebacker, where they lost Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox and Jarrett Grace is recovering from breaking his leg in four places in early October. Grace is making slow progress, but Kelly said he's expected to be ready to play in the fall.
"We think we're going to be fine, but you have to be patient," Kelly said.
Kelly is confident that new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who had been an assistant with the New York Jets, will find players to mount a pass rush.
"That's what his experience in the NFL and his length of experience in college football is going to allow us to find ways to get guys involved to get that pressure," he said.
Kelly believes the Irish are talented, but inexperienced.
"It's our job to get those inexperienced players ready to play, and this is the time to do it," he said.
Kelly also announced that reserve wide receiver Luke Massa will not return for a fifth season.