Notre Dame football: Kelly high on QB Rees
It was so long ago when Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly turned in his ballot for the preseason coaches poll that he wasn’t sure exactly where he placed the Irish.
“Tenth or 11th, right in there,” Kelly guesstimated.
Kelly, though, had no problem remembering why he voted his Irish so high. And a seemingly made-over Tommy Rees had a lot to do with it.
The full 62-coach electorate had the Irish sitting at No. 11 in the rankings released Thursday — ND’s highest de-but in the coaches poll since the 2006 preseason poll saw the Irish chosen third. The AP writers poll hits cyber-space on Aug, 17.
Rees was 12-4 as a starter in 2011 and the tail end of 2010 before losing the job last offseason to surging Everett Golson. Rees’ penchant for turnovers and some physical limitations opened Kelly’s mind to a change.
Golson’s admitted academic misconduct in the spring, resulting in a university-imposed suspension for the summer term and fall semester, pushed Rees back to the top of the depth chart. A purported deeper skill set is likely to keep the 6-foot-2, 213-pound senior there, though Kelly admitted Thursday during Budweiser’s Weekday SportsBeat radio show on WSBT that he’s open to mixing and matching at the quarterback position if needed.
The Irish open practice in preparation for the Aug. 31 season opener with Temple on Monday in Marion, Ind. Kelly’s first formal meeting with the media is Friday at noon.
“I think I would look at it more as a complementary quarterback,” Kelly said when asked if he considered rein-troducing the changeup QB concept he dabbled with in 2011.
Andrew Hendrix was the complement that season and almost surged to the top of the depth chart over a strug-gling Rees late in that season. A strong summer this year has the 6-2, 226-pound senior ahead of freshman Malik Zaire as the top option to tag-team with Rees this fall.
“Tommy’s our starter,” Kelly said. “What his skill set is, it is. We know what he can do and we feel very confident. But we think if there’s a place for Andrew to get in there and maybe run the ball a little bit more, (do) some zone read option, some things of that nature where we can utilize his athletic ability, we’ll consider it.
“I’m not going to force it and do it just to do it. But if I think it makes sense and can help us win ... I believe An-drew can help us win football games, too.”
Kelly also believes Rees can now execute the fast offensive tempo the coach used extensively while at Cincin-nati, Central Michigan and Grand Valley State and had recommitted to in the spring when it looked like a sea-soned Golson would be the 2013 starting quarterback.
“I think (Rees) makes it easier for us to play fast tempo, because a lot of those plays, when we’re talking about tempo are call-it-and-haul-it plays,” Kelly said. “You can call them and go, and that’s going to be easy for Tommy. I think some of the other (assets) are (his) ability to read on the run.”
Rees made two more starts in 2012 and won both, one against BYU when Golson was injured and one against Miami that turned out to be a cameo when Kelly wanted to discipline his normal starter. Rees also was an ace re-liever while Golson was experiencing growing pains.
“I think seeing it from the sideline (helped him be a better quarterback),” Kelly said. “Look, nobody wants to be on the sideline and learn that way, but those were the circumstances. He accepted his role.
“I think he learned a lot about how to run and manage the offense effectively, and it’s not necessarily about scoring every possession. It’s maybe sometimes minimizing bad plays.”
But the knock against Rees, beyond turnovers, has been that the combination of pedestrian footspeed and the inability to challenge elite defenses deep. NCAA rules prohibit Kelly from watching summer workouts, but the re-ports he received from ND director of football strength and conditioning Paul Longo and Rees’ teammates indicate encouraging signs on both fronts.
“You wouldn’t think if you looked at him and Andrew Hendrix that he’s stronger than Andrew physically, Kelly said. “He (bench pressed) 225 pounds 10 times. That’s pretty good for a quarterback. Solid weight gain, worked really hard and coach Longo didn’t put a clock on him but he feels like (Rees) moves really well, so we’re excited. Tommy’s excited.”
Early road test
There will be no TVs at ND’s home away from home for the first four days of fall camp, no privacy and, after the Wi-Fi gets overloaded, no internet either.
“I think it’ll take about 30 minutes for that to shut down,” Kelly said with a laugh.
The Shiloh Park Retreat and Conference Center in Marion, Ind., has a distinctly rustic feel to it, something Kelly was looking for when he started exploring the campus of opening fall camp away from the ND campus more than two years ago.
The Irish will make the 100-miles trip back to South Bend next Thursday night then hold the fifth practice of fall camp back on campus on Aug. 9.
“We looked at a number of locations,” Kelly said. “I wanted it to be a very rural area where we could have no distractions. There were a number of opportunities, but none really fit like Marion for us and Camp Shiloh at this time.
“We did a very good job of being very patient with the development of fields. There was some infrastructure needed that had to go up. There was some building that needed to take place.
“We really want to focus on now, not what happened last year. We want to focus on this team and that’s why the emphasis of getting off campus and being in a secluded environment.”
Kelly said the getaway is likely to become an annual occurrence, though the Irish may end up somewhere other than Marion next time.
“There are some others that have heard about us going down there that are very interested in getting Notre Dame to their location,” Kelly said, “so we’ll see where it goes. But we think for this year (Marion) is right for us.”
Recruiting websites tended to characterize Irish freshman defensive end Isaac Rochell as more project than turn-key prospect, but with intriguing upside.
Apparently the upside is kicking in earlier than expected.
The 6-foot-5, 277-pound defensive end from McDonough, Ga., created the most buzz among the Irish freshman from his ND teammates this summer.
In physical testing, he put up 26 reps at 225 pounds on the bench press. On the field, he was reportedly equally as impressive.
Running backs Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston, cornerback Cole Luke, linebackers Michael Deeb, Jaylon Smith and Doug Randolph, and safety Max Redfield were some other freshmen touted by the Irish veterans.
“We’re just excited that we’ve got some young players that are going to be pushing some veterans,” Kelly said. “That’s when your program is starting to hum — when you young guys start pushing the older guys. It makes for a great dynamic.”
Kelly said he’s not averse to moving some of the impressive freshmen to from their natural positions to positions of need to get them on the field.
•Kelly’s newly forged friendship with New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick netted him a thorough di-agnostic of the ND defense, some ideas to tweak the Irish offense, and some valuable special teams strategies.
“Remember coach Belichick’s background is in special teams,” Kelly said. “He started out that way. â€¦ So I think we picked up a lot of good things. We’ve got a good friendship and I beat him in golf — and he’s the only guy I can beat. So that’s why we stay close.”
•Kelly said he stays in weekly contact with exiled QB Golson and that offensive coordinator Chuck Martin does so even more frequently.
“We have a plan set up for him that I’m not going to get into,” Kelly said. “But his plan is set in terms of working out and throwing and being in a very good environment. And again from my standpoint, he’ll be back with us in January.
“He just needs to continue to grow as a young man and when he gets back in January, get ready to get back and do the things necessary to be the quarterback at Notre Dame.
“Again, he’ll be in the right environment with the right people (this fall while sitting out). That’s important to me, being around the right people and then certainly getting an opportunity to throw and throw to receivers that can help him get better. I think we’ve got that lined up for him.”