Notre Dame will roll through its lineup card as much as possible this weekend against Temple — just not at quarterback.
Senior quarterback Tommy Rees will play as much as possible Saturday against Temple.
Senior Tommy Rees will take the first snaps of the season for the Irish shortly after 3:30 p.m. at Notre Dame Stadium Saturday afternoon. And he’ll take every one that comes after that if all goes according to plan. Irish head coach Brian Kelly said at most positions he wants to get several players in the mix early this season to flex the unprecedented depth he feels he has in the program. At quarterback, though, he said he’d rather make Rees comfortable than worry about padding the experience of his back-ups.
“We really want to get off to a good start with Tommy,” Kelly said Tuesday afternoon. “Tommy Rees needs to really have a good first game, and I think we're focused more about Tommy playing start to finish than we are getting other quarterbacks in the game.”
Kelly hasn’t been shy during the month of August about his goals to score more points this season. The Irish finished 78th in the country last year, averaging a meager 25.77 points per game. Despite losing his two starting running backs, starting quarterback and an All-American tight end, the coach remained confident heading into the start of the regular season that Rees would be able to move the offense forward.
Rees worked this summer to try to eliminate some of the physical liabilities that held him back in past seasons as a starter. Kelly said having a definite starter from the first day of fall camp allowed him to work with Rees on buying more time in the pocket and throwing the ball deeper down the field.
“We can threaten you over the top. We can push the ball over your head. If you want to drop down on us, we've got some weapons that can beat you one on one,” Kelly said. “We struggled with doing that at times last year. We won't struggle doing that this year.”
While Rees will be a constant for the Irish this Saturday, several other players will get an early chance to try to earn a regular role on the field.
Sophomore Ronnie Stanley will likely start at right tackle in his first appearance at the college level. Stanley suffered a concussion during training camp, but has been practicing at full speed this week. True freshman Steve Elmer is an option to play at tackle if Stanley can’t go, and Kelly said he expects Elmer to be on the field this week.
As expected, freshman Jaylon Smith will also make his college debut as the starting drop linebacker. Wide receivers Corey Robinson and James Onwualu are both in Notre Dame’s two-deep roster for their first game in South Bend.
“I think we've got a lot more depth than we've had at any time coming into the season at this point,” Kelly said.
With so many new faces on the field, mistakes will be inevitable in the season opener. Kelly said the goal for his team against Temple is to play as clean of a game as possible.
Last year, the Irish played virtually mistake free in their opening game against Navy, a 50-10 win. Two years ago an onslaught of costly turnovers helped South Florida upset the Irish in the first game of the year. When asked about his fear of players overlooking a Temple team that finished 4-8 last year, Kelly said he thought about avoiding those mental lapses on a daily basis.
“Every single day I talk about it,” he said. “I'm not that far removed from South Florida. That's what I do. This is my livelihood, so I think about all those things.”
- Senior safety Austin Collinsworth is listed as the first-string field safety for Notre Dame ahead of sophomore Elijah Shumate. Kelly said both will get equal time on the field against Temple.
“It's a 1A, 1B situation,” the coach said. “Depending on where we are in the game, down and distance, a lot of those factors will be involved. I think you've got to look at both of those guys playing an equal amount of football.”
- Three early enrollees — Elmer, Onwualu and Robinson — are in the two-deep roster to start the season, but Notre Dame also returns an impressive amount of experience. Seven Irish starters have started at least one game in each of the last three seasons.