First, let me preface this article by saying Tommy Rees showed some serious guts last year. He did what one would expect from the gritty freshman: he made a few mistakes but never got deterred.
Of the two passes Rees threw versus Michigan last season—his first stint on the field for the Irish—the only one he completed was to the other team. Rees was subsequently yanked from the game. Nate Montana entered and completed eight passes for 104 yards until Dayne Crist could return (trust me, it wasn't as impressive as it might sound).
A few games later, at Navy, in the fourth quarter, Rees saw the field again. In the midst of an embarrassing loss for the second year in a row, Rees threw six passes for 79 yards and showed some potential.
It was the very next game when Rees truly got his shot. After Crist hurt his knee in the beginning of the Tulsa game, the freshman played the rest of the way. Rees completed 33-of-54 passes, most of them underneath, in his first full game (basically a full game just without starting).
Rees threw for four touchdowns and three interceptions versus Tulsa, but it was the last interception that would stick with him. With 42 seconds on the clock and within David Ruffer's chip-shot field goal range, Brian Kelly decided to let the young quarterback throw the ball on second down.
The pass ended up going to a shadowed Michael Floyd and was easily intercepted (safety help was waiting over the top as well). While Brian Kelly likely told Rees not to force anything, Coach Kelly never should have put the game on the freshman's shoulders. Either way, Rees was visibly distraught after the game.
Over the next four games, Rees shook off the defeat and Notre Dame went 4-0, with defeats over longtime rivals Miami and USC. Although Rees' numbers weren't very impressive over the four-game stretch, he did enough to take the Irish to victory.
Flash forward to summer camp when Rees was vying for the starting job with Crist. Even after the Irish's great end to the season, it was hard for me to imagine a scenario where Rees actually could have beaten out Crist for the job.
First, Crist has a much better skill set for the position. Floyd recently commented on how Crist gives the team more of a threat when sending the ball down field. Not that arm strength is a good barometer of success. If that were true, at least in the NFL, then we would all be talking about how Ryan Leaf is a better quarterback than Peyton Manning or how Jamarcus Russel will win the MVP this year.
So beyond the physical, and the leadership intangibles which teammates and coaches have the best idea of how to judge, is the logistics of the situation. Now we get to why, if Crist can stay healthy, that Rees will stay at backup for as long as he is at Notre Dame, although a very good one.
Even if Crist has a fantastic season, I see him applying for a fifth year of eligibility. That means that both Andrew Hendrix and Rees will be in their senior years, with Hendrix having a fifth year left, before they can compete between themselves for the job.
Could Coach Kelly play each quarterback one year? Maybe, but I doubt it. And that isn't even mentioning Everett Golson and his potential to climb up the depth chart.
I envision Crist coming back to lead the team for 2012-2013, while Hendrix takes over the reins the following season before it's Golson's turn to lead the Irish in his senior year (it would be a mistake to let Golson waste a year by playing a few downs this season when he could have two seasons as a starter if he doesn't).
The best case scenario for Rees is sharing time with Hendrix during their senior seasons, but then again, maybe Rees' leadership qualities are too good for Coach Kelly to not utilize, only time will tell.
If a star quarterback decides to attend Notre Dame in the next year or two, that could throw a monkey wrench into the whole process, but until then, I see Rees being the odd man out.
That doesn't mean Rees' career as a starter is over, if he develops into a better quarterback, look at Matt Cassel, even backups who don't play can get drafted.