QB race set to resume at Notre Dame camp
By Mark Lazerus 648-3140 or email@example.com August 2, 2012 11:38PM
In this April 14, 2012, photo, Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees sprints out of the pocket during college football practice in South Bend, Ind. Rees was pepper-sprayed and arrested early Thursday, May 3, 2012 after he allegedly ran from away from an off-campus party and knocked the wind out of a police officer who caught up to him. (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)
Updated: September 4, 2012 6:21AM
The cornerbacks on the roster have a combined zero starts between them. The best pass-rusher on the team left school. The all-time leading receiver is in the NFL. And the schedule is among the most brutal in the country.
But never mind all that — who’s going to be Notre Dame’s quarterback?
That’s the question on the minds of the estimated 40,000 Americans who booked transatlantic flights — and just about every room in every hotel, motel, inn and bed-and-breakfast in the city of Dublin — to see Notre Dame play Navy in the season-opener in Ireland on Sept. 1. And that’s the question that will dominate training camp, which begins Saturday in South Bend.
It’s a four-horse race, though the morning-line favorite, Tommy Rees, has been scratched for the Navy game. Last season’s starter — he took over for Dayne Crist at halftime of the season opener against South Florida after another drawn-out training camp battle and started the final 12 games — has been suspended for the Navy game by head coach Brian Kelly in the wake of Rees’ arrest on May 3 after an off-campus party.
Rees put up solid, if not spectacular, numbers last year as he led the Irish to an 8-5 record. He completed 65.5 percent of his passes for 2,871 yards and 20 touchdowns, but also threw 14 interceptions. His Week 1 absence greatly improves the long-term chances of his three competitors for the starting job — junior Andrew Hendrix, sophomore Everett Golson and freshman Gunner Kiel.
“It’s now incumbent on the other three quarterbacks to be ready,” Kelly said during an interview on WSBT radio Thursday afternoon. “But the whole camp is not gonna be about Navy, either, so Tommy’s going to get some reps. We need to keep him sharp, as well. Clearly, as we move through camp, we’ll make a decision.”
Even without a quarterback in place, the Irish have high expectations, and are ranked No. 24 in the preseason coaches poll, which was released Thursday. But it won’t be easy to achieve that long-awaited return to national prominence, as the schedule includes road games at No. 3 USC, No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 13 Michigan State, as well as home games against No. 8 Michigan and No. 18 Stanford.
It’s a daunting slate, especially considering none of the three quarterback candidates eligible for the opener has started a college game — in fact, only Hendrix has even appeared in one. But each brings something different to the competition.
Golson has an electric running ability that Kelly craves in a quarterback. He can run the option, and was Notre Dame’s best passer in the spring game, completing 11 of 15 passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns. The other three quarterbacks all threw at least one interception. Despite never having taken a snap in an actual game, Golson might be the favorite to start against Navy — and he certainly appears to be the fan favorite.
Hendrix has a strong arm and has some of the mobility that best fits Kelly’s spread offense. He acquitted himself well in the second half of the Stanford game last season, leading two touchdown drives after relieving an ineffective Rees.
Kiel, a true freshman and the nation’s top quarterback recruit (he previously had committed to both Indiana and LSU before settling on Notre Dame), has a cannon of an arm, but the early enrollee only saw mop-up duty in the spring game and is a long shot to win the job.
Kelly said Thursday that the quarterback who wins the job will be the one he “trusts” the most not to turn the ball over.
The other position to watch in August will be cornerback. The Irish lost Gary Gray and Robert Blanton — who started all 13 games last season — to graduation and didn’t bring in a single recruit at the position (two high-profile recruits, Tee Shepard and Ronald Darby, both reneged on their commitments). Kelly likely will turn to Lo Wood, who had a pick-six against Maryland last year, and converted receiver Bennett Jackson. Josh Atkinson — twin brother of running back George Atkinson III — and converted running back Cam McDaniel also will be in the mix.
Meanwhile, the defensive line should be a strength despite Aaron Lynch’s abrupt departure in the spring, and T.J. Jones is expected to step into Michael Floyd’s role as the go-to wideout.
The only question remains, who’ll be throwing him the ball? Kelly has 29 practices left to come up with the answer.