Notre Dame wanted Tommy Rees to act his age.
The former and potentially still starting quarterback has done that heading into Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game.
After devouring the vanilla offense Brian Kelly wanted to run early in spring to aid Andrew Hendrix, Everett Golson and Gunner Kiel, the Irish upshifted to a system of checks and unbalanced formations the past few weeks. That played to Rees’ biggest strength, the experience that comes with 16 starts the past two years.
The Irish players have liked what they've seen out of Rees this spring.
“That’s something I think is pretty valuable,” Rees said. “I’m helping (the other quarterbacks) out with everything I can, but I still have the mentality that I’m fighting for the job and I’m trying to keep it.”
Unlike the four-quarterback circus of five years ago when players were seemingly scared of handicapping the race among Jimmy Clausen, Evan Sharpley, Demetrius Jones and Zach Frazer, this competition has come with some player commentary. And to a man, the Irish players like what they’ve seen from Rees this spring.
That experience angle appears to be playing well within the Irish defense as offensive coordinator Chuck Martin tries to reengineer that side of the ball to fit the foursome of Rees-Hendrix-Golson-Kiel.
“I’d say that right now the quarterbacks are looking pretty good just because of the style of offense than coach Martin is putting in just to take a little bit of the pressure off of them,” said Jamoris Slaughter. “That’s helping out a lot. Tommy is looking pretty good. He’s got the most experience back there.”
Kelly is on record that Rees won’t keep his job if he continues to turn the ball over in rapid succession. As a sophomore, Rees threw 14 interceptions, a figure topped at Notre Dame in the last decade only by a sophomore Jimmy Clausen (17 picks) and a freshman Brady Quinn (15 picks).
“If Tommy didn’t turn the football over at the rate he did last year, we’d be talking about this kid at the highest level,” Kelly said. “He did (throw interceptions), though, so that’s why it’s open competition.”
But keeping Rees at quarterback also means the junior must figure out how to get something from his legs with Martin amplifying the value of mobility in the shotgun. All four quarterbacks have been live in scrimmage situations this spring, a trend that will continue during the spring game.
During the past month Rees has shown at least something in mobility, with the coaching staff even calling designed runs. During last weekend’s open practice Rees worked his way to an eight-yard run. Rees never finished a game last season with that many net rushing yards.
“It’s something that I definitely focused on developing, having designed runs and trying to do it,” Rees said. “It’s different when you’ve live. You’ve got to be able to figure out how to get down, how to get your pads down, how to not take hits.
“It’s something that I definitely need to improve on but it’s something that’s been a big focus for me, trying to get better at that. It’s something that can really help this offense go.”
During the Blue-Gold Game, Rees will get his last shot before training camp to prove he’s the guy to deliver it.