Another season, another quarterback competition. That's what it feels like for a Notre Dame football team for whom continuity at the position has been nonexistent the past two seasons. But with a new season comes hope for fans, coaches, and four talented QBs.
"You go into your third year, and you try to balance continuity with change," Kelly said after Notre Dame's first spring practice. "It's important that you bring continuity, but change brings sometimes an energy and enthusiasm. Now, certainly you don't want total change, because that brings other issues I don't want to get into."
And thus presents the quandary of the Notre Dame quarterback position: the word "continuity" suggesting veteran starter Tommy Rees, but possibly meaning the late-2011-emerging tandem of he and Andrew Hendrix, and the word "change" referring to any number of complicated scenarios we haven't yet seen.
Change would seem the enemy of Rees who after struggles last season, relinquished snaps to the dual-threat Hendrix. This offseason, he doesn’t have just have Hendrix to worry about. There’s Everett Golson, a quick-footed athlete who seems to fit Kelly’s desired mold of a quarterback with improvisational skills. Then there is super-hyped freshman Gunner Kiel.
“He's a very talented young man. He wasn't rated that way because he was not,” Kelly said after seeing Kiel in action for the first time. “He's extremely talented. And he has something that the other quarterbacks don't have—that’s 6-foot-4. When you've got that size, it allows you to see some things.”
On Wednesday, the season began the way the last one ended—with both Rees and Hendrix at the helm. Both QBs took snaps with the first team during the tempo drill that began practice. Golson took snaps with the second team, while Kiel, still green in terms of his knowledge of Kelly’s offense, looked on. Kelly says all four will have ample opportunity to earn the job—a policy that sits well with the rest of the team.
“There's a lot of talent out there” said Theo Riddick, who will catch passes at both wide receiver and running back this season. “I think that's going to push everyone to be the best they can be. With that being said, I think it's going to higher all the rest of our expectations in other groups such as wide receivers, running backs, defense, offense, etcetera.”
“I think the best guy is going to take it,” added Manti Te’o, chiming in from the defensive side of the ball. “All those guys back there, they're big competitors. They're going to keep working and all that's going to do is just increase the potential of whoever is starting.”
Each competitor also brings with him different advantages. Rees has the most experience. Hendrix has experience, albeit much less, but can run as well as pass. For the other two, the tools are there, but Kelly must know they are ready before he hands them the reigns of the program.
“[Golson has] quick feet, he's got a strong arm,” Kelly assessed. “He's got all the tools. Now for me it's about accuracy, getting the ball out on time, and having good football intelligence. Those are the areas that he'll continue to work on because there's no question about his footwork. There's no questioning his arm strength. We've got to continue to work on those other three areas.”
Kiel is in a similar situation to Golson, but has not been with the program as long. Kelly said it showed on Wednesday. “For him, it's just understanding the language right now. That's a little overwhelming for him. But when we can get him comfortable, he's go all the tools. Now it's just going to be, how much can he learn to get him to the point where he can really be in there?”
Kelly has not put a timetable on his decision. Last year, when faced with a similar situation, he waited until a few weeks into fall practice to announce a starter. So while spring practice could go a long way in determining who will be under center in 2012, Notre Dame Nation need not hold its collective breath.