Walking in Tommy Rees’ shoes

Evan Sharpley
ND Insider

The life of the Notre Dame quarterback has its peaks and valleys.

I remember feeling like I climbed to the top of Mount Everest when I was named the starting quarterback in 2007, only to follow it with a feeling of being stuck at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the world’s oceans, when we lost to USC and Navy in back-to-back weeks.

Fans and coaches alike seemingly ask the Irish quarterback, “What have you done for me lately?” So, let’s ask the Irish starter for the 2013 opener, “What has Tommy Rees done for the Irish lately?”

Over his career, Tommy Rees is 14-4 as a starter. Interestingly this will be his first start in a season opener. He ranks first in career completion percentage (63.8 percent), is tied for third in career 300-yard passing games, is fifth in career pass completions, tied for fifth in career touchdown passes (34), is sixth in career pass attempts, and is seventh all-time for career passing yards.

Rees’ Achilles heel, as it were, has been his vulnerability to turnovers (24 career interceptions). Irish fans either love the guy or hate him.

He either goes by “TouchDown Tommy” or “TurnOver Tommy.”

However, I know him better by his Twitter handle of “@TommyPickles” (of which he recently changed). Two years ago, we saw Tommy lead the Irish on great drives and consistently turn the ball over in the red zone. Last year, when he came in during key situations, Rees performed with skill and precision.

The 2013 Irish offense needs Rees’ leadership and confidence. Is it possible for Rees to evolve into an elite quarterback? Yes, in my opinion, an elite “game manager.”

The Irish need Rees to manage the game, put the offense in the right play, protect the football, and play to his strengths. Rees does not have the “wow-you” tools but can be an elite game manager by making the right reads, be accurate, and rely on his team being successful instead of trying to do too much.

Championship teams are built in the trenches. As Irish fans saw, last season ND was successful because the offensive and defensive lines set the tone. In order for the Irish to win games this season, the offensive line must protect Rees. Allowing Rees ample time in the pocket is essential.

A byproduct of controlling the line of scrimmage is an efficient running game. With the loss of several key running backs, a group of young replacements will have to grow up very quickly. This, of course, can be quite easy with a strong push from the “big uglies” up front.

Furthermore, a strong running attack will take pressure off Rees and allow for big play-action passes down the field. Rees’ experience will also help the running game progress. With his knowledge of the offense, he will be able to put his squad into a “winning” play based on what the defense gives him.

For example, he could change a strong-side run play to a weak side run, or change a run play to pass, etc. Rees, although much more limited in terms of mobility compared to Everett Golson, will make up for it with his experience and knowledge of the Irish offensive playbook.

The 2013 version of Tommy Rees will showcase a mature and crafty veteran. He has the game experience, has a proven record as a starting QB, and has the knowledge of the offense to take ownership and have a great season.

Will he have doubters? Of course, there always will be doubts, but playing well and winning can change people’s minds very quickly. Tommy Rees doesn’t need to be the savior. However, he needs to be a game-managing messiah of the Irish!

In addition to his weekly column, former Notre Dame quarterback Evan Sharpley previews upcoming games each Friday at 7:50 a.m. on WSBT’s JT In The Morning Show (960 AM and 96.1 FM). On Saturdays, Sharpley hosts a live gameday show on those same frequencies from 11 a.m.-noon at Ivy Court near campus. On Mondays, Sharpley co-hosts WSBT’s Notre Dame Football Final, which airs from 9-10 a.m., and he’ll also be an occasional contributor to WSBT’s Weekday SportsBeat and Gameday SportsBeat radio programs. He serves as the director of fitness at the Eastlake Athletic Club in Elkhart.

South Bend Tribune/JAMES BROSHER Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees celebrates after a first down allowed Notre Dame to run out the clock during a NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012, at Notre Dame.