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Football: Foreign affairs

Chris Allen | Friday, August 17, 2012

The beginning of Irish coach Brian Kelly’s third season in charge of Notre Dame will have a decidedly foreign feel. The first snap of the Irish opener against Navy on Sept. 1 will be taken in a foreign country by a quarterback in a foreign position: Notre Dame starter.

With junior Tommy Rees – the only quarterback on Notre Dame’s roster with starting experience – suspended for the opener, the Irish will turn to a newcomer to start at the most important position on the field.

While he chooses between junior Andrew Hendrix and sophomore Everett Golson to lead the offense, Kelly said during a Media Day press conference Thursday he is optimistic about his team based on the work the team has put in during fall practice.

“We’ve been in camp so we’ve gotten a great look at our football team over the past couple of weeks and in my mind answered a lot of the questions that I had about our football team,” Kelly said. “Really pleased with our team, proud of the way they’ve gone to work each day, and have really benefitted from the teaching.”

Kelly said the need to prepare multiple quarterbacks has shifted the emphasis in camp from individual drills to team exercises.

“As you know, trying to get a new quarterback ready has … made our practices more about 11-on-11 because that’s what we have to get ready for,” he said. “A lot of guys have gotten reps and work.”

The Irish coaching staff entered fall camp with a four-way quarterback race to decide, and with two weeks before the Emerald Isle Classic in Dublin, the decision has been narrowed to two inexperienced but talented options. Rees’ suspension and freshman Gunner Kiel’s inexperience in Kelly’s system mean either Golson or Hendrix will take their first snap as a starting quarterback on Sept. 1. Hendrix saw spot duty as Rees’ backup and a change-of-pace option during the 2011 season, throwing for 249 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 162 yards and another touchdown. Golson spent 2011 on the scout team, running opposing offenses in practice. Kelly said his preference is to see either Golson or Hendrix step up and grab the starting spot to avoid having to play two signal-callers.

“I’ve played two quarterbacks [in my career] only because I’ve had to play two quarterbacks,” he said. “I don’t think I want to have two quarterbacks. I’d rather have one guy make himself known to everybody that he’s the starter. You always love to have a No. 2 that can go right on in for you. But I wouldn’t subscribe to the fact that two is necessarily where we want to be. I’d like to have a single person.”

Beyond the quarterback position, Kelly said he is impressed with his team’s strength on both sides of the ball at the line of scrimmage. The Irish return standout offensive linemen in senior Zack Martin, graduate student Braxston Cave and senior Chris Watt. Two top defensive ends in graduate student Kapron Lewis-Moore and sophomore Stephon Tuitt bolster the defensive line.

“I think we’re really good up the middle, to use a baseball term,” Kelly said. “I mean on both sides of the line, we’re going to be able to physically handle ourselves in the trenches against anyone in the country. That’s a good feeling.”

Fielding a group of young and inexperienced wide receivers and cornerbacks, Kelly indicated a need to see continued development of his perimeter skill players.

“I think that development will go a long way toward determining how successful we are,” he said.”

The Irish will begin their season at Aviva Stadium in Ireland as they take on Navy in Dublin on Sept. 1.