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April 8, 2011

Crist gets answers

If Notre Dame’s quarterbacks are truly equals, Dayne Crist remains first among them.

At seemingly every spring turn the team’s former starting quarterback has been first off the sideline for reps. When Notre Dame debuted the helmet cam last month, Crist got first recording. At a position where everybody wants to lead, Crist’s voice sounds loudest.

“Within the quarterbacks Dayne’s the senior, he can take that, that’s fine,” said Tommy Rees, the most serious contender to keep Crist unseated. “I understand completely my place. He’s a senior, he’s been here.”

The more spring practice continues, the more presumption surrounds Crist that he’ll be Notre Dame’s starting quarterback against South Florida. The coaching staff continues to split reps among all four contenders, but Crist has the look of the guy bring groomed to take the first snap next season.

The fact Crist is in contention for that is remarkable considering his back-to-back season-ending knee injuries, including last October’s ruptured patellar tendon suffered against Tulsa. Rees stepped in, then led Notre Dame to four wins in his four starts.

Crist declared himself medically fit for spring practice last month, a prognosis that has not changed.

“I don’t feel anything restricting in terms of my knee,” Crist said. “I feel very lucky and very surprised at the same time.”

And more comfortable too.

Settling into Year Two under Brian Kelly has gone from theme to cliché during the past three weeks, yet there’s a noticeable difference in Crist, who struggled with footwork and accuracy last year. A quarterback who completed 174-of-294 passes last season (59.2 percent) appears primed for a major up tick.

Last spring Crist had the look of a quarterback throwing the football to the perceived first open receiver. Now he’s an athlete passing to the best option, doing it with a touch that’s eluded him until now.

“I think his footwork has improved since last fall so he’s able to get the ball off just that much quicker,” said offensive coordinator Charley Molnar.

Throw in an improved understanding of protection schemes and Crist is running Notre Dame’s offense instead of just running plays within it.

“That crazy tempo that we were worried about last year, now that’s more innate with these guys and it resonates throughout the entire offense,” Crist said. “I think that as an offensive unit we’re all playing a lot faster and it feels slower to us.

“Quarterbacks talk about that all the time with their knowledge base and their experience. Experience can’t be taught. It’s something that’s incredibly valuable. In the nine games I played last year I think I learned more than my entire football career.”

Now Crist is applying that knowledge, thanks to a year in the system and essential work in the training room to return strength to that still braced left knee.

“Last year even at the same time I was lining up and doing the same plays and I was just worried about what the play call was. What was this guy running? What are my checks?” Crist said. “Now it’s just very natural. Obviously there are things we continue to improve on and get better at. Now it’s more about the defense and just playing the game with the defense.

“Just getting the pen last, basically. Having the best answer to whatever they’re doing.”

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