Notre Dame fall football practice has opened, and head coach Brian Kelly doesn't want to waste any time before choosing a starting quarterback for the Irish ahead of the September 1 season opener, against Navy in Dublin, Ireland. If Kelly had his way, he would name a starter after just a week of practice.
"I want it done the right way," Kelly says. "We have to have a quarterback that we can trust."
You can excuse the apprehension among Notre Dame fans and alumni like me. Whichever quarterback is chosen, he will be making his first career start. While the Fighting Irish have four potential quarterbacks in camp, junior Tommy Rees, who has started 16 of the last 17 games for Notre Dame, has been suspended for the first game following his arrest and guilty pleas surrounding a disturbance at an off-campus party in May.
The first QB to take snaps with the top squad in the opening practice on August 4 was sophomore Everett Golson. He is a highly-mobile quarterback who seems well-suited for the spread offense Kelly would like the Irish to utilize.
"He had a better spring game in our evaluation, so he got the first shot," Kelly said of his decision to go with Golson over the more experience Andrew Hendrix on the opening day of practice. "Andrew had a really good practice today, so there's a chance he could be the first tomorrow. I think that's kind of where we are right now. We're so close with those guys at this point."
Unlike Golson, and freshman contender Gunner Kiel, Hendrix has seen actual game action for the Irish. He threw 37 passes last season as a change-of-pace substitution for Rees but, like a range of Notre Dame players, was plagued by turnovers.
Despite the tight three-way competition, Kelly says he could possibly make a quick decision because he already has an idea of who has a leg up on the starting job.
"I do," he says. "I've got an idea in my mind, but we now have to take that from what I consider meeting-room talk and what we all see in the meeting room, and then we've got to go apply that. But one is not good enough. We've got to get a couple of guys ready for Navy and the season."
As someone who has followed the Notre Dame football for decades, I have no idea who the starter should be. I was a big believer in Dayne Crist last season, and his tenure lasted half of the first game. The drawn out competition between Crist and Rees may have been a distraction last summer. Perhaps that is why Kelly wants to eliminate the intrigue early, get behind a quarterback, and start to prepare. While I don't know which QB I prefer, I'm on board with the idea of an early choice.
Hendrix, Golson and Kiel offer contrasting skill sets and styles. Kelly needs to determine what kind of offensive schemes this year's Irish offense will run, and who can execute that plan the best. Then, everybody needs to be on the same page moving forward. For a variety of reasons, that hasn't always happened in Kelly first two seasons.
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Rick Blaine, an award-winning broadcaster and columnist, holds two degrees from Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @RickBlaineCT.