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October 23, 2013

Rees on track to start

Zack Martin thought Tommy Rees would get up.

When he didn’t, Notre Dame’s offense went down with its starting quarterback last Saturday night. With Rees, the Irish moved up and down the field on the Trojans as the passing game played with tempo, completing 14-of-21 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns.

But after USC linebacker Lamar Dawson clotheslined Rees to the turf and left him with a neck injury Notre Dame didn’t complete on another pass and managed just two first downs in six possessions with Andrew Hendrix.

“We have to do a better job of getting our guys rallied around the next guy in line,” Martin said.

Approaching the week’s midpoint Hendrix remains the next guy in line behind Rees, who practiced in full Tuesday and said he remains on track to start at Air Force.

Brian Kelly was optimistic Rees would come through Notre Dame’s Tuesday practice unscathed during the coach’s press conference. A day later it appears Kelly’s medical optimism was justified.

“I feel really good,” Rees said. “The progression has been good throughout the week with the doctors and training staff. I continue to feel good and practiced yesterday and continue to get more volume throughout the week and I feel good about playing Saturday.”

Notre Dame will limit Rees’ workload to increase the odds of the senior starting at Air Force. Rees said his practice reps haven’t dropped off significantly but admitted Tuesday’s routine was altered as Hendrix rotates into the starting offense and Malik Zaire drills with the reserves.

Against an Air Force team that ranks last nationally in first downs allowed and No. 122 in pass efficiency defense it might not matter who starts. FBS opponents have completed 155-of-204 passes against the Falcons, a 76 percent completion percentage.

That might give Hendrix a rebuilding opportunity after his play against USC steered the coaching staff away from the pass game entirely after the senior bounced two passes and fumbled another.

“I think he's a better player than what he showed against USC,” Kelly said. “I think he's got to calm his emotions down. I think he's capable of much more. I have much more confidence in his ability to come in and play better football. And I expect he will.”

Fortunately for Notre Dame it appears turning to Hendrix this weekend will be more choice than necessity as Rees continues to mend.

Rees said he lobbied the training staff to get back into the game on Saturday night but respected their decision to hold him out

“I was extremely frustrated after I came out,” Rees said. “After I was told I couldn’t go back in it was pretty tough to hear. Playing against your rival, SC, at home, you’re playing well, it’s the last opportunity. It’s a tough hand to be dealt at that position. I wanted to be out there more than anything.

“The training staff did a great job and I have a lot of respect for their decision. It was a tough pill to swallow. Ultimately it was the right decision, ultimately we won the game. It worked out.”

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