Breaking Down Notre Dame's Offense with Tommy Rees at Quarterback
For the first time in his career, Tommy Rees enters the season as Notre Dame's starting quarterback, as the Chicago Sun Times reported. The Everett Golson academic incident has forced the senior back into action following his 2012 relegation to backup quarterback.
Instead of an open competition between Rees, Andrew Hendrix and Malik Zaire, head coach Brian Kelly is going with experience, and that means Rees will lead the Fighting Irish for the foreseeable future.
Schematically, the Irish lose one major element: quarterback run. Both the actual running of the quarterback and the threat of a quarterback run, something that freezes linebackers and safeties, creating seams in the defense.
Although Golson only totaled 298 yards on the ground, his six rushing touchdowns led the Irish, and more importantly he gave the threat of using his legs to punish defenses. He extended plays in the pass game and was able to turn throw-away passing moments into positive plays. Every zone held the threat of the quarterback read-pull, and every pass held the possibility of a scramble.
Enter Tommy Rees. The quarterback is third in passing yardage, with 4,413, at Notre Dame in the last decade; he is only behind Jimmy Clausen's 8,148 yards and Brady Quinn's 11,762 yards on that list. As a kid who's started 18 games, Rees has proven himself capable in many respects.
As you can see, he can make most of the throws Kelly wants, and he understands the offense. The big job for Rees entering 2013 will be limiting mistakes and putting more touchdowns and fewer interceptions on his career 34:24 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
On offense, Notre Dame is still going to run the ball. That is the heart and soul of this physical attack that Kelly has been building. That means George Atkinson and Amir Carlisle running zone in big doses. The big difference will be instead of the give-keep element of Everett Golson shown here, Rees will be running straight zone.
Zone, without the read element, is a great play. It allows the backs to make the cut and get upfield as the linemen push at the point of attack, reach to second level and create running lanes. It is in every team's playbook, and the only loss here is Golson freezing linebackers and defensive ends with the threat of run.
In the passing game, Notre Dame loses the scrambling and play extension of Golson's legs. However, they do get a quarterback in which Kelly has confidence in making all of the throws. Last year's passing game was limited due to Golson's inexperience; this season Kelly can open the playbook up and let Rees find his targets.
And with Tyler Eifert suiting up for the Cincinnati Bengals, finding targets is going to be job one for Rees. DeVaris Daniels and TJ Jones have to be the primary targets as tight end Troy Niklas grows into a reliable receiving threat. Expect Rees to make use of the screen game, as shown here:
Play-action should still play a major role in Notre Dame's offense, out of both tight and wide formations. Without a running quarterback threat, establishing the run will have to be job one to force defenses to respect every handoff motion from Rees. If the Irish can get the zone run game going, plays like the one below will become big winners as teams stack the box to stop the run.
Overall, Tommy Rees is not a bad quarterback. He is the most experienced body on the roster and a guy who will help an offense looking for leadership come together. Notre Dame's offense is not going to change much—the change will come with how defenses play the Irish.
This is a team that is still going to run zone and power, use play-action to get open down the field and spread teams out to create throwing lanes. Rees knows what he's doing, 2013 success in South Bend will boil down to execution and playing mistake-free football. With the defense ready to suffocate opponents, as long as Rees is consistent, the Irish have a shot at getting to a double-digit win season, and more.
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