In wake of Notre Dame suspending its starting quarterback for at minimum the 2013 season, it's easy to believe that Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly will simply turn to reserve Tommy Rees in training camp.
The senior brings experience (34 games and 634 pass attempts) and success (14-4) to the field, but Kelly isn't quite ready to anoint him Everett Golson's replacement just yet.
“We have three quarterbacks,” Kelly said. “Tommy and (senior Andrew Hendrix) have a great deal of experience, and obviously (freshman Malik Zaire) got to come in early and has a good understanding (of the offense). So those guys will all have an opportunity to compete to be the starter.”
Rees would make the most sense, given the fact that he has started 18 games in his three seasons. However, his propensity for throwing interceptions (24 in his three seasons) has cost him the starting job once already (last season to Golson), and Kelly has made it clear that if Rees can't solve that problem, he won't start again.
“Tommy knows exactly what the expectations are for him,” Kelly said. “He was a huge part of our undefeated season (in 2012) and he's going to be a part of this season, as well. Just like a guy that can't make tackles, he's probably not going to be on the field if he can't tackle. And you're probably not going to be on the field if you throw interceptions, whether you're Tommy Rees or Malik Zaire or Everett Golson. That's pretty established within our program, as to what the expectations are.”
Zaire enrolled at Notre Dame in January and Kelly has praised the freshman for his maturity and football intellect, as he went through spring football. But is it realistic to believe that a true freshman can run a major college offense efficiently and effectively?
“Malik has made an impact in that his football knowledge and acumen, the way that he's picked up things in a very short period of time, I'm very impressed with that,” Kelly said. “I liked the way that he competed in the spring game (Zaire threw the game's only touchdown pass). He showed a confidence and a sense of control of the game. Those are all very positive things.”
“But we have to keep in mind,” Kelly added, “Malik has been here for one semester.”
Zaire does possess the athleticism and strong arm that Golson demonstrated in guiding the Irish into the 2013 BCS National Championship Game in January. He will certainly be more prone to running a similar type of offense that Kelly envisioned when he was brought to Notre Dame than Rees can, who is limited by arm strength and mobility.
“Although we are very encouraged and believe that Malik is going to have an opportunity a great future,” Kelly said, “it's really too early to tell. He's got a lot of work left, but early indications are we really like what we see in this young man.”