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Football: Quarterback battle at forefront

Andrew Owens | Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spring has arrived at Notre Dame, and so has another battle for the starting quarterback position.

After a turnover-plagued 8-5 season in 2011, the coaching staff will emphasize fundamentals on offense, Irish coach Brian Kelly said at Tuesday’s press conference to officially begin the spring season.

“We threw way too many interceptions last year for me to be comfortable with,” Kelly said. “I’m not used to seeing that kind of turnover rate, and it certainly affected our win-loss record. The ball coming out in a timely fashion, coming out accurately, and then good decisions being made with the football [is what I’m looking for].”
Kelly said protecting the football is even more of a concern in the red zone, where Notre Dame often struggled last season.

“We’ll be looking at good decisions but aggressive decisions, as well,” he said. “I don’t want them to have to tuck it and run every time because they’re afraid to make a mistake.”

In order to give all four candidates – sophomores Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix and freshmen Gunner Kiel and Everett Golson – an equal footing in trying to win the starting job, the staff will simplify the playbook, Kelly said.

“We’ve kind of taken a step back and really looked at our offensive structure, and we’re going to make it so all four of the guys that are here can compete at a fair level, because [Rees] has got, as you know, the best knowledge base,” he said. “But if we started the spring with page 50 of the playbook, Tommy would be ahead of everybody. So not to put him at a disadvantage but to give it an equal footing for all, we’ve kind of scaled it back, so the spring, it’s going to give all the quarterbacks, including a midyear in [Kiel] and of course [Hendrix and Golson], an opportunity to truly compete for the position.”

While there is no timetable for a starter to be named, Kelly said the goal is to have one quarterback named the starter, as opposed to a rotation, once the season begins.

No Tee party

Kelly said he is unable elaborate on what the reasons were for early enrollee cornerback Tee Shepard to leave the University due to federal privacy laws. Shepard returned home to Fresno, Calif., last week and will not return to Notre Dame.

“You know me; I’d love to talk for 45 minutes on it, I’m just not allowed to,” Kelly said. “From our standpoint we love Tee Shepard, and it’s unfortunate but he’s no longer with us, and we have to move on.”

Position changes

Several players have changed positions for spring practice, Kelly said. Freshman Matthias Farley has moved from slot receiver to safety, freshman Troy Niklas has shifted from outside linebacker to tight end and Cam McDaniel will join the secondary as a cornerback after spending his freshman year as a running back.

“We felt like [Niklas] is a young man we want to get on the field, and it gives us a lot more flexibility with [junior tight end] Tyler Eifert,” Kelly said. “Now you could possibly see [Eifert] moving to a number of different positions [in different offensive sets].

“We thought initially that [Farley] was going to be at the safety position, but our numbers were so low at wide receiver last year that we had to take a load, and we had an idea … that he was not going to play this year.”

Injury updates

Notre Dame suffered a blow at running back when freshman Amir Carlisle broke his ankle in a non-contact drill last week and will miss all of spring practice, though Kelly said he should be ready for summer conditioning in June.

Kelly said freshman linebacker Anthony Rabasa and freshman offensive lineman Tate Nichols have both been cleared to practice after recovering from shoulder injuries. He said freshman linebacker Chase Hounshell has not yet been cleared, however, he is expected to participate in spring drills at some point.

Sophomore running back Cam Roberson is not 100 percent yet, but Kelly said he will participate in spring practice at some point after missing all of 2011 with a knee injury.

Kelly said senior defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore has been fully cleared and has no restrictions, while senior center Braxston Cave is progressing to the point where he might be able to play in the Blue-Gold Game on April 21, though the staff will be cautious with him.

The Irish begin spring practice 8 a.m. Wednesday at LaBar Practice Field.


Contact Andrew Owens at [email protected]