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Football: Quarterback competition continues

Matthew DeFranks | Monday, March 26, 2012

For the first time since its 18-14 loss to Florida State in December’s Champs Sports Bowl, Notre Dame suited up in full pads for Saturday’s practice. And all eyes were on the quarterbacks – all four of them.

Juniors Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix, sophomore Everett Golson and freshman-enrollee Gunner Kiel all took snaps with the first-team offense during Saturday’s scrimmage that included a heavy dose of the run game.

Irish coach Brian Kelly has not placed a timetable on naming a starter and said there may be more than one.

“I believe there’s going to be more than one quarterback,” Kelly said. “I think if there’s no clear break as we go through the spring, I think this process continues to evolve as we work through preseason camp.”

Kelly said he wants the quarterbacks to cut down on the turnovers and minimize mistakes a year after the Irish committed 29 turnovers – ranking 110th in the country.

“We’re a lot more decisive with the football [this spring],” Kelly said. “We’ve told our quarterbacks, ‘Be the eraser of a bad play.’ They’re understanding that if they take care of the football, they’ve got a chance to be very successful.”

Rees, who started the final 12 games in 2011 for the Irish, enters camp as the incumbent after throwing for 2,871 yards and 20 touchdowns, but with 14 interceptions.

“I think [my experience] is something that is pretty valuable,” Rees said. “It just adds some comfort level out there when you start going live and start doing some things.”

Kelly and new Irish offensive coordinator Chuck Martin have simplified the offense to make for a fairer competition between the four candidates. Although a change like this may seem to take an advantage away from an experienced player like Rees, he said it has been helpful.

“I’ve been in this offense for two years now,” Rees said. “There’s not much they could put in that I haven’t run. The process of what we’ve been putting in has been really good and it’s been helpful to all the guys, learning-wise.”

Hendrix, who received significant playing time in games against Stanford and Florida State, said he is still learning and improving.

“I’m better today than I was yesterday,” Hendrix said. “Every mistake I make, I learn from. Every single rep I take, I’m taking mental reps like I’ve never taken before.”

In limited action in just five games, Hendrix threw for 249 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He also ran for 162 yards, good for third-best on the team.

“I’m extremely confident in my own ability,” Hendrix said. “Right now, I’m just doing the absolute best that I can. I’m having a blast out there. I’m starting to understand. The pieces are starting to fall into place for me as I watch plays develop. I’m starting to get it and that’s really exciting for me.

“Every guy obviously thinks they’re the best. If you don’t think you’re the best, then you should probably just not come to practice.”

Golson, like Hendrix, sat out his first year on campus and views the experience as a positive one.

“[Sitting out last year] was a blessing,” Golson said. “Being on scout team and going against the first-team defense helped me out a lot. I got used to the speed of the game real quick. I think the only thing I was lacking after that was the footwork.”

Golson said he also developed rapport with some of the scout team wide receivers, including spring standout freshman DaVaris Daniels, which can help him make a smooth transition into the starting job.

While Golson has adjusted to the speed of the college game, Kiel has not yet.

“The speed of the game is ten-times faster and the guys are a lot better,” Kiel said. “It’s a lot different but for this being the third practice, I think it is going pretty well. I’m finally starting to get into it and getting into a routine.”

Kiel – the nation’s top-rated high school quarterback – was a late addition to Notre Dame’s incoming recruiting class after decommitting from LSU at the last minute in January. The six-foot-four Columbus, Ind., native said the team welcomed him with open arms.

“The quarterbacks have been great to me and have welcomed me,” Kiel said. “And that goes along with all the guys. They have been so great. When I first got here, no one asked me any questions about LSU. They just knew they were glad to have me on their team. To have that family atmosphere is huge and made me feel very part of the team very quickly.”

Running backs impress

Junior running back Theo Riddick, who is making the transition from wide receiver to the backfield, split reps with freshman running back George Atkinson III during Saturday’s practice.

Riddick broke a few long runs during the scrimmage, including one where he tried to run over junior safety Zeke Motta. He also had a long run that ended when he was pushed out of bounds at the opposition’s 10-yard line.

“[Riddick] did some good things today,” Kelly said. “He caught the ball out of the backfield. He really gives us such great options as it relates to matchups, coming out of the backfield, running the football. He’s got that background as a receiver, really puts him in a good position to help our football field.”

Atkinson also received carries during the scrimmage with junior running back Cierre Wood out with a minor leg injury.

“We really wanted to see George today,” Kelly said. “This is really George Atkinson’s opportunity to get a lot of reps. It was nice to see him do a nice job.”

Kelly said he was pleased with a running attack that saw the first 17 rushes go for at least seven yards.


Contact Matthew DeFranks at mdefrank@nd.edu