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Notre Dame’s Bullpen Warming Up

If anyone can appreciate having a strong quarterback bullpen, it’s Brian Kelly. Over the past five years, few college coaches have needed relief help at quarterback more than Kelly.

Senior Andrew Hendrix has appeared in eight games for Notre Dame, passing for 304 yards and rushing for 203.

• At the University of Cincinnati in 2008, Kelly had to start three different quarterbacks — and use a fourth in a late-game situation to get a crucial first down — en route to winning the Big East title and earning a BCS bid.

• The next season, starter Tony Pike was injured and sidelined for four games, but the Bearcats didn’t miss a beat with Zach Collaros, who rushed for 344 yards during a 12-0 regular season.

• At Notre Dame in his first season (2010), Kelly lost starter Dayne Crist in the ninth game to an ACL tear, yet freshman Tommy Rees thrived on a team that finished the year on a surprising 4-0 run after starting 4-5.

• In 2011, Kelly began the year with Crist and ended the regular season with Andrew Hendrix, but in between had Rees start all the way, before both Rees and Hendrix played in the 18-14 Champs Sports Bowl loss to Florida State.

• Last year, Rees was college football’s “Fireman Of The Year” while relieving Everett Golson and finishing four white-knuckle victories.

Minus Golson, who is in academic purgatory for 2013, Kelly has three scholarship quarterbacks on the roster with Rees, Hendrix and freshman Malik Zaire. Unlike the past two years, the demarcation among the three is not as cloudy.

“There’s a clear pecking order here — one, two, three,” Kelly said. “Andrew is clearly the No. 2 quarterback and ready to play. I think I’ve made it pretty clear that if I believe Andrew can help in winning football games, I am not a guy that is going to be hesitant to put him in at any time to help us win.

“Andrew can help us win. We’ll see if there is a time and place necessary for him to come in and help us win games.”

Zaire won’t necessarily see a lot of reps in practice, if any, as the third option once the season begins, but he won’t be with the scout team either like the transferred Gunner Kiel was in 2012 or Golson in 2011. With only three scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, he can’t afford to be.

Because Hendrix has been in the offense four years and Zaire is trying to just learn elementary rudiments, the separation entering the season is pronounced. Interestingly, Hendrix’s 203 career yards rushing are also the second most on the Notre Dame roster (behind junior running back George Atkinson III’s 388).

“He does things differently,” Kelly said of Hendrix. “He would be a guy we would feature some more [quarterback] runs like we did with Everett Golson, but he could still throw it, he could still run the offense. We’re not going to change into an entirely different offense, but we would certainly feature some more quarterback inspired runs and reads, which are already within our system.

“He’s got enough of a résumé that you know — and everybody else that has watched Andrew play — what his background is: He’s got a strong arm, he’s athletic, he can run, he’s just more comfortable in our system of offense and running our offense.”

Kelly also said he doesn’t want to force getting Hendrix action just for the sake of having a change-up in the arsenal. It’s all about timing and having a feel for the game. Early in last year’s Michigan game, Kelly was able to discern that Golson was way off and skittish, so the steadier Rees played the final three quarters in the 13-6 win. The same applies to this season, or any other campaign.

“I don’t have a prescribed time,” Kelly said of using a different quarterback. “I try to get a feel for the game and try to win games. … If I think he can help us win, I’d put him in. I’m confident that Andrew can help us win this year. And if I think I could insert him at any time to give us that, I am not hesitant to do that. I’ll go to the bullpen and ask him to help us.”

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