Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly runs through the players on the practice field Thursday Aug. 16, 2012 in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)
Updated: September 18, 2012 6:25AM
SOUTH BEND — Andrew Hendrix called it the “highest-profile position in sports.”
But right now, Notre Dame doesn’t exactly have the highest expectations for its starting quarterback — whoever it might be.
Sure, maybe Hendrix or Everett Golson or even Tommy Rees or Gunner Kiel will end up being the next Brady Quinn or Tony Rice some day.
But nobody’s asking them to be.
Not yet, at least.
“Zero is OK,” said offensive coordinator Chuck Martin. “Nothing wrong with second-and-10. Don’t go backwards.”
“We have to have a quarterback that we can trust to take great care of the football and get us in the right place,” head coach Brian Kelly said.
“We have a phenomenal team behind us, so if we just focus on not turning the ball over, making smart decisions, the guys around us will win football games,” Hendrix said. “We don’t have to go win them ourselves.”
That’s it. That’s the goal right now. Find a guy who won’t screw everything up. Who won’t throw interceptions. Who won’t lose a handle on the ball.
Don’t go out there and try to win the game. Just don’t go out there and lose it.
That’s all Kelly is asking for at this point. Considering neither Golson nor Hendrix — the only two candidates to start against Navy in Ireland on Sept. 1 — has ever started a college game, it’s all Kelly can ask for.
“I’ve got two guys that I can’t rate on production yet, because they haven’t produced anything,” Kelly said. “So we have to kind of scale it during our practices and say, OK, who’s going to be that guy that gives us the best chance to win, and to do that, then you start to look at other columns, like knowledge base, taking care of the football and leadership. And then you turn the page and you go, OK, I want accuracy, escapability. So I guess the point I’m making is, when you don’t have somebody leading into the season that has that production, then you have to be able to use all those columns, because you’re making the educated guess as to who that next player is and who that starter is going to be.”
An “educated guess.” That’s all it’s going to be. That’s all it can be, really.
At least Kelly is getting closer to making that guess. For the first two weeks of camp, Golson and Hendrix have pretty much split the reps 50-50 — though Golson, based on his stellar performance in the spring game, has been working with the first team more often. But starting Monday, camp officially ends and preparation for Navy begins — and so will the delineation between the first-string quarterback and his backup.
“I think we’re getting closer to that,” Kelly said. “It’s not going to be a 50-50 proposition. We’re moving closer towards that as we move into actually working against Navy. I think probably Monday, we sit down and talk about how the reps are going to be distributed. But there’s still so much learning, so it wouldn’t be as cut and dry as say, ‘Here’s my No. 1.’ The door will still be open for growth during that week, but we’ll start to separate the reps a little bit.”
Kelly hasn’t decided whether he’ll make his choice public. All Irish practices over the next two weeks are closed to the media, so Kelly could decide to keep it a secret.
“I have not thought about it,” he said.
That leaves the rest of us to make our own educated guesses. And Golson appears to be the favorite, despite Hendrix’s experience in actual game situations last year while Golson ran the scout team. Besides the first-team reps, the dynamic dual-threat Golson has addressed Kelly’s biggest two concerns — his academics and his penchant for turning the ball over. Put it this way: Golson no longer is on what Kelly called in the spring his “heart attack team.”
“We’ve had 126 throwing opportunities for Everett; he’s had one interception,” Kelly said. “You build trust. You don’t just give it, you build trust. So going from that phrase that I used in the spring to where we are today, I had to be able to move from where I was to where we want to be, and so we had to really load a lot of work on his plate. And he’s exhibited that trust in the way he’s handled himself in camp.”
Golson was glad to hear that.
“I think ball security is probably one thing I didn’t really pay attention to in high school, and that kind of carried over with me in college,” he said. “I’m starting to get there. Starting to get more comfortable in what I see, and more confident.”
“Starting to,” he said. That’s good, no question. But with the season beginning in two weeks, it’s not great.
But that’s where Notre Dame finds itself right now. It’s hardly an apocalyptic scenario — not with an experienced line, an experienced backfield, and an experienced defense.
But it’s not an ideal scenario, either.
Whoever gets the gig — the one that Hendrix said every kid dreams about — is going to have to turn potential and hype into reality and production.
Immediately, too, because Kelly won’t stand for any growing pains.
And that’s a lot to ask.
“The guy with the most experience is not going to be the starter for Navy, so that’s a little bit unusual,” Kelly said. “But it’s been great, it’s been fun to work with young quarterbacks that are learning every day. As a teacher, it’s a captive audience. These guys want to get better. They want to be the starter. Probably in my career, it’s probably been the most energized for me to get out there and teach and coach guys that want to learn, and that’s been fun for me.”
Then, he paused for a moment.
“I just hope it’s fun against Navy.”