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Crist stands out in quarterback battle

Andrew Owens | Sunday, August 7, 2011

Although it was only the first day of Notre Dame’s fall practice, senior Dayne Crist may have emerged as the leading candidate for the starting quarterback position after making strides with his footwork, which was inhibited by his recovery from knee surgery in the spring.

“I was very happy with Dayne today — the biggest thing with Dayne is after having two knee surgeries you become a little protective of your lower body and you slow down your footwork,” Kelly said. “He was very aggressive with his throwing, spinning the ball very tight, it wasn’t what I saw in the spring. I thought he was tentative at times in the spring — I was very pleased with the way he competed today and threw the football.”

Crist said the improvement in his footwork from spring practice was “night and day” and that he felt comfortable out there due to summer workouts.

“The summer’s are a huge tool,” he said. “You can make a lot of progress in the summer on some of the things you don’t do so well. Just figuring out what you can improve on becomes your point of emphasis in the summer.”

The battle with sophomores Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix and freshman Everett Golson for the top signal-caller position is intense, but at the same time unique in that they assist each other throughout the process, Crist said.

“All three are good guys and we’re friends on and off the field,” he said. “We understand it’s a competition, but at the same time we’re going to do things to help each other get better. We want to pick up where we left off.”

Rees sees the position as everybody’s to win, not a single player’s to lose, he said. The sophomore was rotating with Crist in high-tempo drills with the unit that consisted of almost all returning and expected starters, while Golson and Hendrix were splitting reps in drills with the second team.

“As far as Dayne and I, we know we’re going head-to-head,” he said. “We’re splitting reps out there. There hasn’t been too much communication as well who’s moving up or down, it’s just to go out there and compete.”

Overall, Kelly said he felt much more optimistic after day one of practice this year compared to 2010, his inaugural season at the helm.

“The first day for us is always evaluated by where we’ve gone from or what progress we’ve made,” he said. “I think I probably wouldn’t have made the press conference if I didn’t think we made significant progress. Our guys know what to do. We were a lot more efficient out here today and we have a lot to do on getting our players to finish everything that they do on a consistent basis, but I’m saying the same thing every football coach is after the first practice.”

Special teams shakeup?

Kelly said the Irish special teams units were up and down in 2010, and that the level of production needs to be consistently high this season.

He named seniors Harrison Smith and John Goodman and junior Robby Toma as “sure-handed” returners, but said if the staff wants to look for some more explosion from the unit, they might look to junior Theo Riddick, freshman George Atkinson, Golson, or even senior wide receiver Michael Floyd.

“We’re going to look at young guys who are exciting with the football in their hands,” Kelly said.

Quick start necessary for 2011 success

If the Irish are going to continue the late success they experienced in 2010, they need to be sharp early, Kelly said.

“The way we want to practice, the way we want to compete against each other — we have to be able to push each other and not cross the line where we lose somebody, because we don’t have the luxury to play two or three games in our schedule and kind of playing out-manned opponents who play the first half and then sit them down,” he said. “We have to push each other aggressively. That’s what they understand better in terms of how to practice.”