Irish quarterback Tommy Rees will practice when Notre Dame takes the field Tuesday afternoon, and all signs point to the senior starter being ready to play against Air Force in Colorado Saturday.
Notre Dame's medical staff cleared Tommy Rees to return to practice Tuesday after missing the end of a win over USC.
Rees missed most of the second half during a 14-10 win over USC due to a neck injury. Trojans linebacker Lamar Dawson sacked Rees early in the third quarter, sending him to the sideline and eventually the locker room. Irish head coach Brian Kelly said as long as Rees' neck continues to feel good through the rest of the week he'll be under center Saturday afternoon.
"We believe that Tommy is going to be ready," Kelly said. “He was cleared today to practice. So we’re moving forward that he will be the starter.”
Senior Andrew Hendrix stepped in for Rees during the second half last Saturday. He didn't complete any of his four pass attempts, and the offense averaged less than two yards per play under his direction.
Kelly said Hendrix will have to play better if he's called on again to replace Rees this year, and he's confident that the USC performance wasn't Hendrix's best. Last week the coach said Hendrix was ready to be more than a “change up” option at quarterback and could operate the full offense. On Tuesday, he said that there’s a clear difference between playing well in practice and performing in a game.
“He’ll get some more reps,” Kelly said. “He’s gotta get some more reps clearly, and [freshman] Malik [Zaire]’s gotta get some more reps. Looking good in practice and looking good in the game are obviously two different things.”
Hendrix will likely take over some of Rees’ normal reps with the first team this week, leaving more room for Zaire to work with the second group. As a true freshman, Zaire remains an emergency option that the staff would rather keep on the sidelines this season to preserve a year of eligibility.
Because Rees was cleared so early in the week, Kelly said he isn’t thinking about holding him back for precautionary reasons against an Air Force defense that ranks 116th in the nation in total yardage allowed.
The diagnosis for Rees was perhaps better than expected in the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s game. Kelly said the regular turmoil at the quarterback position during his time at Notre Dame has helped him and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin prepare for the worst case scenarios.
Kelly’s first starter, Dayne Crist, missed half of one year with a knee injury before he was benched the following season. That season was shrouded with controversy as Rees remained the top option throughout the year. After a year of marginal consistency out of Everett Golson, his dismissal for academic reasons this spring threw the position another unexpected twist.
“This has not been the easiest run in four years here at Notre Dame with quarterbacks. We’re prepared for it at this point,” he said.
While Rees recovers this week, Golson remains on the West Coast training with quarterback specialist George Whitfield. Kelly said he and Martin stay in touch with the former starter on a weekly basis, and a graduate assistant keeps Golson up to date on the team’s weekly game plans with more frequent conversations.
“He's working hard,” Kelly said. “He's on the West Coast. He's in a disciplined environment, one I'm very comfortable with.”
Irish Will Be Careful With Nix
The forecast for senior nose guard Louis Nix against Air Force is a little more cloudy. Nix needed help getting off the field at one point during the fourth quarter against USC. Kelly said Tuesday that the defensive mainstay was still sore.
Air Force’s triple option attack, and its undersized offensive line that likes to cut block, make Nix a less essential piece of the puzzle for the Irish defense this week than against other opponents. Kelly didn’t say he would hold Nix out of the lineup, but the staff will be more judicious in monitoring his reps in practice and the game Saturday.
“We need Big Lou. Option football is not his cup of tea,” Kelly said, and later added that he lodged a complaint with the official from the USC game for some of the low blocks they threw at Nix.
Sophomore safety Elijah Shumate missed Saturday’s gam against the Trojans entirely with a hamstring injury. Kelly said Shumate ran without pain on Monday and he’s far ahead of schedule. He’ll practice Tuesday and is questionable for the upcoming game against Air Force.