SOUTH BEND – Ian Book has never gotten a speeding ticket. In fact, the Notre Dame quarterback has never even been pulled over.
That's just Book's personality. He's a cautious person and a relatively cautious, risk-averse player on the field. As coach Brian Kelly said, Book doesn't “live on the edge.”
That aversion to dangerous throws and ability to make the smart play helped Book seize the starting quarterback job last season. This season, he entered fall camp as the unquestioned starter for the first time. With that job security comes responsibility: The Irish want their quarterback to be more of a big-play threat and push himself to make throws into tight spaces.
“Especially this spring and summer, I've been trying to, on those smaller (throwing) windows, I've been trying to test myself, work on that,” Book said. “I think it's made me a better player.”
Book was plenty good in 2018, when he took over in Week 4 and led the Irish to seven straight victories, with Brandon Wimbush starting in the win over Florida State, before they fell in the Cotton Bowl to Clemson. Book threw for more than 2,600 yards, averaging a robust 8.4 yards per attempt, and 19 touchdowns. His willingness to check the ball down when the first option wasn't open helped him complete 68% of his passes, eighth-best in the country.
Still, the Irish want to be more explosive in the passing game this season. They have the receivers to do so, as Chase Claypool, Chris Finke, Michael Young and Braden Lenzy all have plenty of speed and big-play ability.
So far, despite the occasional interception in camp, the push to make Book more aggressive seems to be working.
“He's certainly a lot more confident in pushing the ball down the field,” Kelly said. “We knew that's something that we had to be better at. He worked hard at it this spring. ... But he's not a guy who's going to be feeding it into traffic. That's just not who he is, he's a smart kid, he's gonna make the right plays.”
The senior isn't going to transform into Brett Favre overnight. He'll likely always be a cautious-minded player at heart, but with his accuracy and vision, a little bit of aggressiveness can go a long way.
Book enjoyed Kelly's characterization of his risk-aversion when he learned of it. Living away from the edge is fine with him.
“I like (Kelly's comments) because it shows I just try to be efficient moving down the field,” Book said. “Really just doing whatever I can to lead this offense, I don't have to play outside the offense.”
There have been moments in camp when the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Book has been visibly frustrated with himself for throwing the ball slightly low or behind a receiver, even if the pass is caught.
“That's my job – to put it in the right spot,” Book said. “It's the little things. (Quarterbacks) Coach (Tommy) Rees is pushing me every single day to care about those because when you care about those, it could make a really big difference.
“I don't want to just get the ball to (the receiver) and pretend like my job's over, I want to put it in the right spot every time.”
With the pass-catchers the Irish have, Book knows that putting the ball out in front and giving those receivers a chance to run can create big plays, even on short passes.
The Irish will get a chance to show off their more aggressive passing offense right away: Week 1 opponent Louisville ranked 120th of 129 FBS teams in passing defense last season.