This article is a part of our 2012 Player Projections series. During the summer months Blue & Gold Illustrated will be evaluating each player on Notre Dame’s projected two-deep depth chart — reviewing their careers to this point and discussing expectations for the year to come.
Irish quarterback Tommy Rees will have to fight to keep his starting job this fall.
Tommy Rees — QB
Height: 6-foot-2 Weight: 210
Experience: 22 appearances, 16 starts
Stats: 3,977 passing yards, 32 TDs, 22 INTs, 64.2 completion percentage
Tommy Rees’ future at quarterback and at Notre Dame is covered with question marks. Exactly when the answers will come remains unclear. Problems on and off the field have put the junior in jeopardy of losing his starting job after taking the first snaps in 16 of Notre Dame’s last 17 games.
The next step toward clarity will come July 17 when Rees appears in court on four misdemeanor charges stemming from his tussle with a police officer in early May. Rees was arrested on the last day of the spring semester after trying to flee from an off-campus party where he had been drinking alcohol. If any punishments are handed down on the 17th they won’t have any direct effect on Rees’ football career. The disciplinary decisions that follow from the university and the football team, however, could add a large hurdle for Rees in what remains a four-man quarterback race according to the Irish coaching staff.
Even during his 4-0 run as a starter at the end of his freshman season, it was clear that Rees didn’t have the same physical tools as the rest of the Irish quarterback candidates. He scratched together an impressive run that year with the help of a budding defense and a surprising amount of confidence.
That confidence appeared to wane in 2011 after Rees took over for former quarterback Dayne Crist 30 minutes into the regular season. He seemed to overanalyze more and more as the season continued and criticism from the outside grew louder. Rees was directly responsible for 19 turnovers, which is more than five of the teams on Notre Dame’s schedule had in total last season.
Rees still started every game last year and continued to build on his experience and knowledge of the game. No other quarterback — Crist or fellow junior Andrew Hendrix — did enough in practice or in brief appearances during games to take his job. Two new competitors, sophomore Everett Golson and freshman Gunner Kiel, joined the competition this spring. So far, Rees has yet to be dethroned.
Rees will play an important role whether her remains the starting quarterback for the Irish this season or someone else takes over. With 16 starts under his belt, the junior is a veteran and has as good of a grasp on the Irish offense as anyone wearing a gold helmet.
Before the ball gets snapped, Rees is easily the best quarterback the Irish have. His ceiling once the ball is in hands is probably the lowest of all four competitors, but he’s also the closest to bumping his head at this point.
“For me, I’ve been in this offense for two years now; there’s not much they could put in that I haven’t run, that I don’t know,” Rees said this spring when asked about starting from square one with the other quarterbacks. “I think the process of what we’ve been putting in has been really good and it’s been helpful for all the guys learning-wise. For me, it’s a time to fine-tune the knowledge that I have from previous experience and just to get better there.”
That fine-tuning might translate to a third year as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback. If it doesn’t, Rees will need to be a dependable back-up and a tutor for his teammates.
What’s a Good Season?
If Rees does win the starting job, he should have one main concern on each play this season, and it’s not much of a mystery. Don’t turn the ball over. Irish head coach Brian Kelly said early in the spring that the player who best protected the football would see the field in the fall.
Without his turnovers as a sophomore, Rees had a very respectable second season despite the lack of a rocket launcher right arm and the ability to make plays with his feet. Rees knows his role has to be as more of a game manager, but that means protecting the football at all costs. If he can do that the rest of his numbers will take care of themselves.