With fall practice about to open at Notre Dame, the four-man competition for the starting quarterback job has already taken a critical turn. Incumbent starter Tommy Rees has been suspended for the season opener following his arrest and subsequent guilty pleas for resisting arrest and underage drinking.
Rees, a junior who has started 16 of the last 17 games for the Irish, will not travel with the team top Ireland for the September 1 season opener against Navy in Dublin. As a result, he will see limited action in practices during August, as head coach Brian Kelly prepares ND's other three quarterbacks to possibly start.
Senior linebacker Carlo Calabrese was also suspended for his role in the same off-campus incident in May.
"Our players understand that it's a privilege to be associated with the University of Notre Dame and its football program, but with that comes great responsibility," Kelly announced. "Carlo and Tommy put themselves in a situation that when, given a choice between two distinct paths, they responded with a set of poor decisions. This conduct was inconsistent with my expectations for our football program - especially our veteran, team leaders. Carlo and Tommy will not travel with the team to Ireland and can attempt to climb the depth chart following the conclusion of their respective suspensions."
The battle for the starting quarterback is the story that promises to dominate Notre Dame's preseason practices, and will be scrutinized by fans and alumni like me. With Rees out of the mix, one of three QBs will get the first starting assignment of their college careers. For two of the contenders, it would be their first-ever college football action.
Junior Andrew Hendrix has seen limited action for the Irish in the past, throwing 37 passes and showing an ability to be mobile in and out of the pocket. Sophomore Everett Golson is the athletic option, giving Notre Dame a potent running threat that would lend itself to the spread offense Kelly would like to refine. Highly touted freshman Gunner Kiel is a prototypical drop-back passer with a big arm.
The suspension likely drops Rees to the bottom of the depth chart, as Kelly cannot afford to have him using reps the other three need to prepare for a possible start. If he is to win back the starting job, he'll have to do so with limited practice time, and do it after the season gets underway.
The suspensions are a good move by Kelly, though he had few realistic options. The Irish program was under close observation by fans and the media given the reaction last season, when star wide receiver Michael Floyd missed no games following a drunk driving arrest, despite an off-season suspension.
Rick Blaine, an award-winning broadcaster and columnist, holds two degrees from Notre Dame.
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