Tommy Rees doesn't have a long leash to work with as the starting quarterback for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish this fall. The senior is unquestionably the program's starter heading into the 2013 season, but head coach Brian Kelly won't hesitate to pull him in favor of Andrew Hendrix if he falters.
Last season, Everett Golson earned the clear-cut starting role, but was replaced by Rees a number of times when he failed to produce.
Rees' grip on the starting job appears to be more tenuous, even though Kelly recently said there is a "clear pecking order" at the position, as noted by Matt Fortuna of ESPN.com. Hendrix is going to be nipping at Rees' heels all season long as the Fighting Irish attempt to replicate their success from a year ago:
There's a clear pecking order here, 1-2-3. Andrew is clearly the number-two quarterback and ready to play. I think I made it pretty clear that if I believe Andrew can help in winning football games, I am not a guy that's going to be hesitant to put him in at any time to help us win. The evaluation is always about, for me, Can you help us win football games?
Andrew can help us win. And we'll see if there's a time and place necessary for him to come in and help us win games. Right now Tommy is the guy.
The key words being, "right now."
Between Rees and Hendrix, Rees has a massive edge when it comes to experience. Before Golson arrived as the starter last season, Hendrix had been Rees' backup in 2011 and he has attempted just 44 passes in his college career.
But there is a good reason Rees was supplanted by Golson last season—at least as far as Kelly is concerned.
A competent passer who possesses adequate, but not spectacular, arm strength, Rees far too often in his career at Notre Dame has carelessly turned the ball over with 34 touchdowns compared to 24 interceptions.
Given the Irish's lack of tenured playmakers, the team's best formula for success this year will look much like it did last year: a dominant defense and an offense that chews up the clock with the ground game.
Turnovers are a killer for teams that lack that explosive element on offense. As such, Rees will be kept on a short leash from the start of Week 1 at Temple.
When naming Rees his starter for the opener back in the beginning of August, Kelly made it clear that his decision was for Week 1 and Week 1 only, as noted by Bob Wieneke of the South Bend Tribune:
"He was the most experienced and gave us the best opportunity to win against Temple," Kelly said before adding that he did not name Rees the starter for all 13 games, simply the Temple game.
Experience won't help Rees, however, if he doesn't take care of the football.
Which quarterback will be starting for Notre Dame by season's end?
Should the veteran signal-caller return to his turnover-happy ways, Kelly won't hesitate for one second to roll the dice with Hendrix—a player who can move the chains with his arm and his legs, unlike Rees, who is a classic pocket passer.
Don't take this as an indictment against Rees. He's more than capable of running an efficient offense this season if he doesn't turn the ball over. That said, Kelly won't have an ounce of patience if the senior quarterback starts out the 2013 season poorly.
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78