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Rees Suspension Complicates Things

Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly wanted to avoid another quarterback controversy in Year Three. Junior QB Tommy Rees desperately hoped to avoid an arrest on May 3 for underage drinking. Neither got his way.

Rees and senior linebacker Carlo Calabrese were arrested at an off-campus party shortly after spring practices concluded in a scene that included equal parts “Monty Python” and “Goodfellas.” After failing to jump a fence, Rees turned around and bolted for the street, where according to reports, his path to freedom was cut off by an overachieving taxi driver.

When pursuing officers caught up to Rees, he kneed an officer in the midsection, was pepper sprayed and finally taken into custody. Meanwhile, Calabrese, choosing to spit in the face of common sense, made the kind of threat to police that makes one wonder about his family tree.

“My people will get you,” he said, according to police reports, which resulted in a misdemeanor charge of intimidation.

I seriously doubt he was talking about fellow linebackers Manti Te’o and Dan Fox. Forgetaboutit.

What would have likely amounted to nothing more than an underage drinking citation for Rees quickly turned into a parade of poor judgment, which eventually prompted Kelly to suspend both of them Tuesday for the Sept. 1 season opener against Navy in Ireland.

Rees’ approval rating among Fighting Irish fans had already plummeted before his arrest. Once a hero for guiding Notre Dame to four straight victories as a freshman stand-in for injured starter Dayne Crist in 2010, Rees, who ranks eighth all time in school history in passing yards (3,977) and first in completion percentage (64.2) after 16 career starts, sawed the legs off of his own pedestal by tossing 14 interceptions and fumbling five times in 2011. Though many ND supporters were hoping to see a change at QB before the Champs Sports Bowl against Florida State, Rees’ experience and understanding of Kelly’s offense was just enough to maintain starting status.

When it came to 2012, it just didn’t seem as if junior Andrew Hendrix, despite being more of a threat on the ground, had done enough in a smattering of appearances to pass Rees. Sophomore Everett Golson dazzled in the Blue-Gold Game in April, when he completed 11 of 15 pass attempts (including two touchdowns) and added 25 rushing yards. But Kelly admitted after the scrimmage that Golson’s game-management skills weren’t yet up to snuff.

The scenario I envisioned this year was Kelly giving Rees one last opportunity, with only a slightly longer leash than Crist was afforded at the start of 2011. If Rees were to lay an egg in Dublin, few would question Kelly for switching to Golson, Hendrix or a combination of the two.

That was before Rees’ arrest, which his many critics believe to be divine intervention. The fact that he won’t get many reps in the weeks leading up to Navy makes it all that much harder to regain the starting position once the team returns from Ireland. But it’s certainly possible. The other candidates, including freshman Gunner Kiel, have combined for 249 passing yards, one touchdown completion and zero career starts.

You better believe that if Hendrix and Golson fail to impress, there will be plenty of folks back on the Rees train. That’s why Rees’ suspension doesn’t help clear up anything. In fact, it makes 2012 more complicated than it needed to be for Kelly.

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