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Football: Brian Kelly excited about Notre Dame, Crist, Rees in 2011

Allan Joseph | Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Entering his second year at Notre Dame, Irish coach Brian Kelly is now more confident in the state of his program than he was at this point last fall.

“We’ve been able to spend more time on football with our football team. [It's not been] getting them in shape … it’s been football, football, football,” Kelly said. “I think they know my style … They know how I want them to practice. We don’t have it perfect yet, but we’re moving in the right direction.”

As has become standard this fall, the battle for the starting quarterback position was the focus of the majority of the conversation at Tuesday’s Media Day. Senior Dayne Crist and sophomore Tommy Rees have established themselves as the leading candidates for the position.

“Crist and Rees have separated themselves by virtue of their knowledge, by virtue of their ability to manage the offensive system and structure that we have,” Kelly said. “They can take the whole offense and run with it … You’ve got two quarterbacks that I have great trust and confidence that they can play championship football for us.”

While Crist was the unquestioned starter at the beginning of the 2010 season, a season-ending injury opened the door for Rees to lead the Irish to four straight victories at the end of the season. A year removed from having the starter spot sewn up, Crist has not created the competition by regressing. Rather, Rees’ progression has forced the issue.

“Your first inclination has been that Dayne has slipped,” Kelly said. “He has not. He’s much btter. He’s a much better football player than he was at this time last year in all aspects: demeanor, focus, buying into Brian Kelly’s system … All those things have made him a better football player and a better quarterback.

“But Tommy Rees came in as a blank slate. He didn’t have any other systems that we had to flush out. So Tommy has really hit the ground running, and that’s why it’s made it such a great competition. So we’ve got two quarterbacks that have gotten better from last year more so than anybody slipping a peg or two.”

Only 10 days into fall practice, Kelly already had a feel for his team’s demeanor.

“This group has been as focused about the task at hand relative to their preparation for 2011 than any team I’ve ever coached,” Kelly said. “[They have a] want and desire to be a championship football team. It’s been a long time. They’ve only won six games two years ago, and eight games [last year.] That doesn’t fill you up, I don’t believe … they want more, and you can see that in their focus.”

Despite being confident in his squad, Kelly tried to temper some of the expectations that have been built around his squad, including a No. 18 ranking in the coaches’ preseason poll.

“Expectations are always high at Notre Dame,” Kelly said. “But I can’t really give you a whole lot about our football team until I get another 10 days to two weeks with them … We’re still in that process of developing who we are in 2011.”

Kelly and the Irish begin their season Sept. 3 against South Florida at 3:30 p.m. in Notre Dame Stadium.