Notre Dame Football: 10 Reasons Why the Quarterback Competition Is a Good Thing
My editor at Bleacher Report threw me a couple ideas for columns this week and one specifically caught my eye: "10 Reasons Why a QB Controversy is Good for Notre Dame." I really thought about it for a good long time, first dissecting the wording of it.
I don't believe a controversy is good and frankly, that's not what Notre Dame has right now. No, head coach Brian Kelly has not named a starting quarterback for the 2011 campaign, but that doesn't mean there's a controversy.
As of right now there's a very healthy competition going on between the two signal callers who started games last season (Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees) and two up and coming quarterbacks with four full years of eligibility remaining (Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson).
Some people fall into the camp that not know who the starter coming out of the spring is a bad thing, but I'm here to point out ten silver linings to the competition spilling over into the summer.
There is no room for complacency at the quarterback position at Notre Dame right now. Yes, Dayne Crist always appeared to be the heir apparent for Jimmy Clausen and most thought he'd hold down the position for three solid years once Clausen left early.
Last spring he was clearly the No. 1 starter despite the fact he was coming off major reconstructive knee surgery.
Times have a tendency to change rapidly though. Another catastrophic knee injury and a Tommy Rees engineered four-game win streak later, Dayne has some serious competition on his hands for the starting nod.
Competition has a way of bringing out the best in great athletes. Those destined to succeed thrive when faced with it while others wilt and crumble under the pressure.
The pressure that Crist is saddled with as he competes for the starting job pales in comparison to what he experiences each Saturday of the fall, but it does give Coach Kelly a prolonged glimpse at how he handles adversity.
No one knows who the starter will be which means that each and every practice needs to be a great one. That amps up focus and intensity each to a level that can elevate each player to new heights.
Everyone Prepares Like They're the Starter
The mantra of a backup quarterback is always "I prepare every week like I'm the starter so I'll be prepared." But how true is that really?
It's very rare that the second (let alone the third or fourth) stringer would be so focused and prepared to start in case of emergency that they wouldn't miss a beat if their number was called.
But in a situation where it's an open competition with no named starter, these quarterbacks absolutely must prepare as if they're the starter--because they just may be. This once again will help pique players' focus, from Dayne Crist to Everett Golson.
There's a colossal mental hurdle that must be cleared when a player--especially a quarterback--is thrown into the fire unexpectedly. For a clear example, look at the deer in headlights response of Tommy Rees in his first appearance in blue and gold against Michigan.
Kelly said Rees was so visibly rattled after just one possession that Rees was yanked for Nate Montana.
The likelihood of that worst case scenario becoming reality again is greatly reduced now that there are four capable quarterbacks preparing as if they're going to be "the guy."
Translates to Quality Depth
Four years ago in the spring of 2007, four quarterbacks without a snap of meaningful game experience battled it out for the starting position.
The lack of experience and in some cases ability ultimately led to Jimmy Clausen getting tossed to the wolves before he was ready for almost an entire season. It was a disaster and that was painfully clear by the end of the spring game.
This year's quarterback four-step is completely different. Two of the quarterbacks have significant game experience over the past year. Dayne Crist started nine games while Tommy Rees helped lead a four-games win streak that included victories over Utah, Southern Cal, and Miami to close out the season.
The duo handed in less than stellar efforts in the Blue and Gold Game last month, but last season provided a large enough sample size to have confidence that both can lead the offense.
Brian Kelly clearly has two experienced and effective quarterbacks to choose from, a luxury many teams simply lack.
Throw in the two rising freshmen--Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson--who both showed promise running and passing in the slop of Notre Dame Stadium during the scrimmage and you have yourself four capable signal callers to choose from.
That's a phenomenal situation to be in if you're the head coach of a football team.
Ask Rick Neuheisel if he could've used that quarterback depth at UCLA the last couple years.
Tougher for Opponents to Prepare
The four quarterbacks are clearly separated into two categories: the pro-style guys (Crist and Rees) and the spread guys (Hendrix and Golson).
The two experienced quarterbacks bring a different skill set to the table than Hendrix and Golson, one that lacks the ability to consistently make plays with their legs.
By keeping teams in the dark, Kelly forces opponents to prepare for both styles. Charlie Weis tried doing this in 2007 by not announcing his starting quarterback before kickoff and that worked out well, right? Right?
The reality is there's a very high probability one of the pro-style quarterbacks will take the first snap--and majority of snaps for the entire year--in 2011.
Kelly has made it clear though that they'll mix in the more mobile quarterbacks to change up the pace and make it difficult to prepare for, especially in the red zone.
Lessens the Likelihood of Transfers
At the end of August, Brian Kelly is going to tap one quarterback as his starter and the other three will be left to bide their time.
There's a very strong possibility that if Kelly would've narrowed down the competition in the spring that one or more of the players left out of the first cut could have transferred. There's already been a precedent for it and it's not particularly far-fetched.
After spring sessions in 2007, Charlie Weis narrowed his starting quarterback competition from four to three when he eliminated Zach Frazer from the hunt.
Frazer, suddenly finding himself fourth on the depth chart and behind two players with the same eligibility of him, chose to transfer to UConn in hopes of finding more playing time.
If Kelly announced after the spring game that Golson was ahead of Hendrix then Hendrix may have decided to jump ship. Had Kelly decided that Rees had been leap frogged by Hendrix and/or Golson then he may have been gone. Same for if Crist slipped far down the depth chart.
Prolonging the competition and not declaring winners and losers before it's necessary it has kept the position stacked with talent and transfer-free.
Eliminates a Flip-Flop
Brian Kelly could be absolutely certain that Tommy Rees is his guy as of right now.
But maybe Rees comes to camp at the beginning of August and is just flat and can't move the offense. Perhaps Everett Golson put on a solid 10lbs and looks like he's ready to take the reins from day one.
When Kelly declares his starter he's going to need the team to rally around the chosen quarterback. If he taps someone now and decides later that someone else earned the position then it would only create confusion and likely division within the team.
There's plenty of time before it's necessary to name a starter. Holding off to make that decision is prudent since the contenders are relatively even. Kelly will digest and dissect every practice, drill, and rep he can before he makes the final call.
When he does there won't be any going back because he understands the negative impact it could have on his squad.
It Shows Recruits They'll Have a Chance to Compete Immediately
A big selling point for top recruits is the opportunity to earn playing time right away.
What better way to prove that's true than by throwing an early enrollee right into the starting mix at quarterback a week after he's on-campus?
Everett Golson has been in the thick of the quarterback competition since his arrival in January, facing off against a rising senior and two players who have been in the program for a full season despite the fact he would've been prepping for his senior prom had he chosen to enroll in June.
Kelly promised Golson a shot at winning the starting position, even if it was a long one. His willingness to follow through on that pledge builds the head coach's credibility among potential recruits.
Declaring a Starter in This Situation Does No Real Good at This Point
Right before the 1993 season began, Lou Holtz pulled Kevin McDougal aside and told him that the starting job would be given to superstar freshman Ron Powlus.
This decision was not popular amongst the team who thought McDougal, a senior, had earned the starting position with a strong spring and summer session.
As fate would have it though, that very same day Powlus broke his collarbone in practice. McDougal assumed the starting position and helped engineer an 11-1 campaign that saw the Irish finish #2 in the polls.
How does that story relate to today? Well, let's say that Dayne Crist is Brian Kelly's choice for starter as of right now. What good does it do to christen him with that official title at this point in time?
Perhaps Dayne suffers another injury and Tommy Rees is thrust into the starting role. If Kelly hadn't declared a starter then many will surmise that Rees was on track to win it anyway and you better believe Kelly would spin it that way if only to infuse confidence in Rees.
Brian Kelly has the luxury of observing his quarterbacks for another handful of weeks in the summer leading up to the opening game. He'll use those practices to make certain his choice is the correct one and when the time is right, he'll declare who the leader will be.
Rushing into a decision for the sake of simply handing out a title does no real good.
It Helps Build and Reinforce a Culture
When Brian Kelly took the job in the winter of 2009, his comments suggested he was appalled at the sense of entitlement that existed on the team.
It was long rumored that Charlie Weis had "his guys" that he tended to hand starting jobs to whether or not they truly earned it. It was a culture that Kelly looked to tear down and rebuild immediately.
Kelly believes that competition at every position is healthy, even quarterback. The basis of the philosophy is if each player is pushing his teammates for playing time each practice and has to play every day like his job depends on it, then it will only lead to the team reaching even higher heights. Just because you were the starter last year or last game doesn't mean you're entitled to it today or tomorrow.
There are plenty of coaches that adopt this approach, but quarterback is usually exempt so that the team can rally around the designated starter. Not on this team though. Crist, Rees, Hendrix, and Golson will have to duke it out until the bitter end to earn that starting spot.
The fact that even the quarterbacks can't take anything for granted helps build and reinforce the culture Kelly is trying to create. It's his hope that this approach will yield a team that is passionate and focused and takes nothing for granted.
It Gives the Fans Something to Debate About
Come on, let's be honest: there's not a whole lot for Notre Dame fans to dissect right now.
One can only spend so much time talking about recruits when chances are the next nine months will probably include a commitment, a decommitment, and a recommitment from at least six of them.
And after awhile discussing the delusional and psychotic portion of Ohio State's fan base that doesn't think Tressel needs to be fired becomes boring (and somewhat depressing).
A quarterback competition provides us fans with something to debate, hash, rehash, and whatever the next step after rehash is.
We weigh the pros and cons of each of them while trying to pin down exactly what Coach Kelly is thinking. It's a futile exercise, but one that keeps cell phone bills high and message boards buzzing.
In the end it helps pass the time until South Florida rolls into town on September 3. That's not a bad thing, is it?