Brian Kelly’s decision to start the 2016 season with co-starters at quarterback instead of picking between DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire affected the way Kizer led the Notre Dame team, he said at the NFL Combine on Friday.
In his press conference with reporters in Indianapolis, Kizer admitted that splitting time with Zaire impacted his ability to connect with teammates.
"I don't think (the two quarterback approach) held me back, but I do think I spent a little too much time thinking about that rather than thinking about developing the guys around me and developing the trust," Kizer said.
After starting for almost the entire 2015 season in place of an injured Zaire, the two Irish quarterbacks entered the 2016 preseason locked in a position battle. Kelly made the controversial decision to play both in the opener against Texas, a game the Irish lost in double overtime.
Kizer seized control of the job the next week. Zaire played only a handful of meaningful snaps the rest of the season, most notably a three-drive outing in the second half of a loss to Stanford.
Notre Dame went 4-8. Kizer completed 58.7 percent of his passes for 2,925 yards, 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. In 2015, these were his numbers: 62.9 percent completions, 2,880 yards, 21 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
The 6-foot-4 native of Toledo, Ohio, called the whole situation and his lack of leadership his “biggest regret this past season.”
“There should have been a little more time spent with me trying to develop that trust and develop the guys around me to make the plays in those fourth-quarter drives when needed,” Kizer said. “At times I was kind of looking over my shoulder a little bit too much.”
Shortly after last season, Zaire decided to transfer from Notre Dame for his final year of eligibility. He has not yet announced where he will play in 2017.
The more polished Kizer — who flashed an NFL-type skill set throughout his Notre Dame career — is considered a top-three quarterback in the NFL Draft.