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The Journal Gazette

Friday, April 13, 2018 1:00 am

Having 3 QBs not an issue for Irish

Staff looks for other ways to use freshman

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

SOUTH BEND – When Notre Dame began spring practice in early March, the quarterback competition was nominally a three-way race.

Incumbent starter Brandon Wimbush would have to compete with Citrus Bowl hero Ian Book and redshirt freshman Avery Davis to win the job again.

Over the last six weeks, Wimbush and Book have clearly separated themselves, leaving Davis as the apparent No. 3 option under center. That has made the former four-star recruit an afterthought in the quarterback discussion, but it has not stopped the Irish's offensive coaches from trying to use his talents in other ways. By their comments after recent practices, it's clear Davis will have plenty of opportunities to affect games this fall with his athleticism and skills. 

“When (Avery)'s not playing quarterback, we want to see what else he can do for us,” coach Brian Kelly said at the start of spring practice. “He's a very gifted player, and we may try to get him involved in opportunities where he touches the ball other than just in the quarterback position.”

Kelly has emphasized that he wants Davis to work on his craft at quarterback first and foremost, but when the 5-foot-11 Texan isn't taking snaps there with the third team, he's had chances to work with the first- and second-string at both running back and wide receiver.

The redshirt freshman entered Notre Dame as a four-star recruit at quarterback, one of the top 10 dual-threat passers in the class of 2017, according to both ESPN and 24/7 Sports. He hasn't officially switched positions, but his path to playing time is much more apparent in the backfield and split out wide.

Davis understands that and has bought in to working at different spots, according to offensive coordinator Chip Long.

“He's scoring a lot of touchdowns (in practice), so I think he enjoys that,” Long said Thursday. “That always helps. When he's in there, he's going to be touching the ball. He's going to be the No. 1 read or give in that scenario. ... This past week he's been really, really exciting.”

Davis' athleticism has impressed his coaches since he arrived on campus as a freshman and became a star on the scout team, but he has more to rely on at his new positions than simply physical tools. Long has been impressed with the Cedar Hill product's ability to learn quickly and his polish, especially in running routes at receiver.

“He's really kind of surpassed my expectations,” said Long, who is entering his second season as the offensive coordinator. “This last week he's probably been a more explosive player on offense than we've had.

“He's carrying a lot, but you kind of see the confidence in him, the speed coming off the ball and the power he's playing with.”

Spring practice is traditionally a time for experimentation and the Irish have used these practices to try to solve last year's depth issues at running back. Both Davis and wide receiver Jafar Armstrong have spent time in the backfield this spring, part of the team's effort to ensure that the “best five guys” play as often as possible at the skill positions, according to running backs coach Autry Denson.

“We're using the spring to put guys in position to use their God-given ability,” Denson said. “Avery can run, he can throw, we know he knows the position (running back) from a quarterback standpoint, and he can catch pretty well. So we're just trying to see what this offense is going to look like in regards to the different talent sets we have available to us.”

Notre Dame's spring practice season concludes with the Blue-Gold Game on April 21.

dsinn@jg.net