Who needs fall camp to decide who the starting quarterback is going to be? Apparently not Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly.
Kelly reportedly said a little too much at an event at Grand Rapids, Mich. earlier this week, naming Tommy Rees the starting quarterback, according to the Grand Rapids Press. (h/t Brian Hamilton of the Chicago Tribune)
Everett won't be with us in the fall, so I've always moved forward, Kelly said. I don't live in the past, I don’t spent too much time in the future, I live in the present. And the present is, I've got Tommy Rees, who was a starter for us, established player, and he’ll be our starter. And we think that Andrew Hendrix and Malik Zaire are guys that can contribute. But Tommy will be our starter.
Uh-oh. You can hear a collective sigh throughout South Bend if you listen closely. The only thing preventing Irish fans from driving their car off a cliff is a tweet that was sent out by Irish Illustrated that refuted the report.
Unfortunately, you can listen to Kelly announce Rees as the starting quarterback by clicking here.
It is no secret that Rees is the favorite to win the starting job. He is the only quarterback on the depth chart with any starting experience. And no matter how talented freshman Malik Zaire may be, you don't exactly want to throw him into the fire unless you absolutely have to. Even then, it may not be worth it, especially for a team that has enough pieces in place to compete for another BCS bowl.
Whether he said it, nobody is going to be shocked when Rees is lined up behind center for the season opener against Temple.
So now it comes down to what Notre Dame should expect from the senior quarterback. Will he transform into the turnover machine he was in 2011, or will he be able to play the role of a game manager like he was last season and guide the team to victories?
The truth is that it may not be up to him to make that decision. The Irish return a loaded backfield with George Atkinson III, Amir Carlisle and a couple of talented freshmen in Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston, who will contribute as well. There is also a respectable offensive line with Zack Martin, Nick Martin and Chris Watt leading the way.
Louis Nix could play quarterback this season and the game plan will remain the same. Notre Dame is going to run the football more times than not and develop the identity of a physical football team. We began to see this last year, as the 388 pass attempts was 82nd in college football and the 506 rushing attempts was good for 44th. The coaching staff would be wise to stick to a similar formula with now even more depth in the backfield.
Which brings us back to Rees. Although he has a history of throwing interceptions at the most costly point of games, he did prove last season that he can be a "game manager" and play well when there isn't so much on his plate. The completion percentage of 57.6 percent and two interceptions out of 59 passes weren't pretty, but he was the X-factor to last year's undefeated season.
Of course, as a full-time starter Rees would be asked to throw the ball more than 59 times. However, Notre Dame isn't going to turn into Washington State or Texas Tech. Kelly has a terrific running game he can rely on and use the same approach with Rees that he did last season as a backup. Let the running game go to work, only throw when needed and to keep the defense on its toes, and most importantly, limit those turnovers.
Keep it simple, stupid.
This is a team that will rely heavily on defense and the running game, and it can't be said enough. Whether Rees or the man on the moon is quarterbacking the Irish, they will be just fine as long as they stick to the game plan.