Newman spent the past four seasons with an up-close view of the Fighting Irish quarterback competition. The former Notre Dame defensive lineman contributed to the successes, as well as the failures, the Irish quarterbacks garnered on a daily basis in practice. Third-year coach Brian Kelly left spring football without a definitive answer as to which of the four candidates would be the starter this season. Newman also has a difficult time determining who, in his opinion, should be the starter. But when pressed for an answer, he threw his support behind Rees, but not by much.
“They are (each) very talented,” Newman said of the four players. “Every one of them. It's really a tossup as to which talent that you want to put out there. It's basically (choosing) a style or talent, because pretty much everybody can play.”
Newman is spending his final season of eligibility at Ball State, and he believes there is a stark difference in competition in the Irish and Cardinal programs.
“At Ball State, there is a drop-off between ones and twos and twos and threes,” Newman explained of the depth chart. “A dramatic drop-off. At Notre Dame? It was a tossup as to who was going to start.”
Dayne Crist entered 2011 as the starting quarterback after beating Rees out during training camp. However, one bad half of play by the senior in the season opener against South Florida undid a month's worth of work, and he was benched for the remainder of the season. Therein lies a problem specific to Notre Dame, according to Newman.
“Dayne was telling Tommy that even if they are saying that you are the No. 1 guy,” Newman said, “that's what they told me. It's not good for your program if you can't put stock into what the coaches say.”
Kelly has become infamous for his heated sideline instruction of Crist and Rees after errant throws. Newman believes that treatment of the players has contributed to the problem of erratic play rather than solving it.
“The coaches having faith in you to go out there and get the job done goes a long, long, long way,” Newman said. “Even when you are making mistakes it goes a long way. Because every mistake you make on a Notre Dame football field, people think that it is (the quarterback's) last play.”
Former Notre Dame All-American Michael Floyd told Newman that he believed Rees was one of the smartest quarterbacks he had seen, and Newman said he trusts the wide receiver's opinion. Rees has started 16 games in his two seasons, but 22 interceptions over that time has led to him battling for a job entering his junior year. And Newman understands that decision being made by the coaches to a degree.
“Tommy has made mistakes,” Newman said. “They were stupid mistakes and he should be punished for those. But I've got to go to bat for Tommy. Interceptions are going to be thrown no matter who the quarterback is. Those are going to happen, and honestly, they happen a lot more when the coaches are chewing you out for throwing that first one.”
The pressure of having to endure a verbal tirade is one of several aspects of criticism that Rees, as well as every other Irish quarterback, has to endure. The public scrutiny from other students, message boards and the media has a negative impact on every player and coach according to Newman.
“The pressure is magnified through the coaches,” Newman said. “Even through the administration, it's from everyone. It's magnified.”
Newman watched freshman Gunner Kiel work in the weight room this past spring, and he was impressed with the youngster. He called sophomore Everett Golson “the most talented human being I've seen on a football field ever.” As for Andrew Hendrix, Newman wonders what will happen with his career.
“Andrew is too talented and too smart of a guy,” Newman said. “He really cares about the school and the degree that he is getting there. (Each of) These guys belong at Notre Dame. There is a certain air to Notre Dame students that demands excellence. I'm not a big fan of transferring from Notre Dame before you get your degree. But I can't see all four of those guys (staying).”