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Football: Bull’s-eye focus

Allan Joseph | Thursday, August 25, 2011

One day after Irish coach Brian Kelly named senior Dayne Crist the starting quarterback, Notre Dame had already shifted its focus from the quarterback competition to the quickly approaching season.

“We’re focused on South Florida. We’ve focused on some more situation things that we need to script and rehearse that could happen in the first game,” Kelly said. “It’s just a different focus now that the quarterback has been defined.”

Though Crist was named the starter, sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees continues to see significant action on the practice field, taking approximately 40 percent of the snaps to Crist’s 60 percent. While this is a higher number than most backups around the country take, such is customary for Kelly.

“I think it’s atypical for most coaches,” Kelly said. “I’ve always been 60/40 because I’ve felt that you can do some teaching with those repeated reps … You can talk to your quarterback and say, ‘Take a look at it now from this perspective. That’s the play you just read incorrectly.’

“I’ve always used it as a teaching opportunity … that’s just been my style,” Kelly said.

Despite the end of the race for the starting quarterback position, Crist and Rees continue to be close on and off the field.

“You should have seen those two guys. They’re really great friends in the meeting room, in the locker room, off the field,” offensive coordinator Charley Molnar said. “Yeah, they competed hard, but they helped each other all day, every day. They both get it. It’s all about winning football games.”

With the season a mere nine days away, the Irish are significantly more comfortable in their offensive scheme than they were a year ago in the midst of preparing for their first game under Kelly.

“We could dig a little bit deeper if we need to, but our guys basically have more of the playbook than they had a year ago for the opener,” Molnar said. “They’ve mastered more things than they did a year ago in the opener. Now it really is just time for them to go and perform.”

A large part of that mastery involved increased time in the film room.

“I definitely feel a lot more comfortable. I feel a lot more comfortable when it comes to film study,” senior running back Jonas Gray said. “I’m a lot more comfortable with the offense, feel a lot more comfortable with my reads, being able to read the defense — the film study and all that comes into play.”

The increased confidence in the basic offensive schemes has allowed the Irish to practice more situations since the building blocks of the offense are now firmly entrenched.

“Coach Kelly is very situational in the way he thinks. We cover virtually every situation that you could think of,” Molnar said. “For example, the other day we went through overtime. We went through the last play of the game from the eight-yard line. We worked [the two-minute offense] needing a field goal. We worked two-minute needing a touchdown. We worked all the different third down things. We worked the four-minute offense. You name it, we worked it.”

The coaching staff believes this will give the team an advantage by expanding the options it has in any given situation.

“We have a lot of versatility,” Gray said. “It gives coach Kelly the ability to open up his playbook and do a lot more things than he did in the past.”

With the season just a week and a half away, preparation is starting to give way to emotion.

“I’m just excited,” Gray said. “I’m excited for the season to start.”