Perception = Reality...for 7 more months

Nearly every Irish fan has an opinion on Dayne Crist, Tommy Rees, and the forthcoming quarterback battle this spring.

One quarterback posted a 4-4 W-L record, his season truncated in late October due to a second severe knee injury. The other enjoyed success thereafter, guiding an adjusted, more prudent offensive attack to a 4-1 mark including an unblemished effort as the starter.

The former supposedly lacks quick feet, but nonetheless led the team in rushing touchdowns, despite missing one-third of the season. The latter supposedly lacks the position's key physical tools, except his 12 touchdown passes included a cross-section of slants and out-routes, a post, two corner-routes, a go-route, and a fade pattern.

Still, perception is off-season reality among a team's fan base, and neither Dayne Crist nor Tommy Rees can change theirs until at least mid-April's glorified Blue Gold scrimmage or more important, until next September in the Stadium vs. South Florida.

All relevant statistics are included in the pull-out box below, but the current skinny on Notre Dame's two returning quarterbacks is as follows:

  1. Tommy Rees is "A Gamer"
  2. Dayne Crist "Just doesn't have ‘IT'"

Of course, if you're in the other quarterback's camp:

  1. Crist has the necessary tools and will star in a more balanced offense and with a stout defense, something Rees enjoyed in November 2010.
  2. Rees lacks arm strength and foot speed. He's a game manager.

In either case, for either camp, the latter criticism need not be true for the former compliment to be accurate.

Luckily for fans so vested in the 2011 quarterback derby's outcome, neither of the returning competitors nor their head coach is in any particular "camp," nor will any relevant decision be made anywhere but the practice field over the next several months. And more than likely, no decision will be final until one shows marked improvement inside the House that Rockne Built.

Dayne Crist: Take Two

If you're looking for behind-the-scenes drama, or worried that the 2011 locker room could be fractured in its support of a particular quarterback, rest easy:

Neither the upperclassmen nor the young guy possesses the selfish gene.

"I'm very proud of him," Crist said of Rees. "Of how his approach has changed since being the starter.

"You guys would be surprised how much we hang out that's not football related," he continued. "We're very close. He's like a little brother to me. We're constantly bouncing things off each other and constantly trying to make each other better. Anything I can do to help him he knows that I'd do it for him."

As for Crist's second bout with off-season recovery, it hasn't been easy, but he hasn't endured the process alone, either.

"I've got great people around me and I think that's the biggest thing I have going for me," Crist noted prior to the Sun Bowl. "I have great family, great friends, and a great support system that has really helped me keep my head clear and stay positive.

"I think I'm incredibly lucky because it's a dark time…doing it twice you really understand that. People try to put you to rest and tell you that you're done. Having those (support) people around me has really made it that much easier and much more bearable."

Everyone's an expert: As for those outside Crist's support system; the doubters that suggest he's done, that he should transfer, or that he's simply a poor fit?

"All the outside negativity I've been able to block out and almost laugh at. You have to be mature and as a player you would drive yourself absolutely crazy if you paid attention to that stuff, or if you were caught up in message boards. Players understand that's the last place you want to be spending time."

Instead, Crist spends most of his time embracing the daily rigor of repairing his second serious knee injury in a calendar year.

"The approach is daily grind," he said of the root of the rehab process. "The biggest gains you make is every day going in and busting your butt in rehab. That's how I did it with (pointing to his previously injured knee). Everything in your power, every single day to make sure you gain as much as possible."

Though Crist's status for early spring practice remains in question, head coach Brian Kelly knows his senior leader has the fortitude and toughness to compete in a meaningful fashion.

"Certainly we feel based upon what he did last spring (every rep, spring game), we think we're going to be able to do those similar kinds of things and keep him involved with competing within our spring practice format.

Crist will attack the rehab and competition head on, but he knows both battles will continue through the summer and fall camp.

"It gets me going and gets the competitive juices going, but you have to have an even keel and understand the integrity of your knee is the most important thing," he admitted. "You don't want to rush back and do something stupid. I won't do that and I know the doctors won't let me, the coaches wouldn't."

Tommy Rees – Season Saver

I sat next to two other Notre Dame beat writers at Saturday's Football Awards Celebration: three writers from three websites with three different guesses regarding the yet-to-be announced winner of Notre Dame's inaugural "Next Man In" award.

None of us guessed Tommy Rees – all of us felt ridiculous after the savvy signal-caller accepted his trophy.

It could be that our collective ignorance speaks volumes (insert obvious comment here), or maybe we had subconsciously embraced one faction of the fan base, and their perception of Rees' 2010 ephemeral moment (well, it would be moments, in his case) in the sun.

How could we forget Tommy Rees?

The fan base in attendance certainly didn't, showering the freshman QB with applause as he took the stage to a rousing ovation, likely the evening's longest singular acknowledgment outside that received by the head coach.

The recognition signified a job well-done under exigent circumstances. But Rees knows the adoration is fleeting, and in December, he began the necessary steps to take his game to the next level in 2011.

"As a quarterback you always want to do more than just manage the game," Rees said following the season. "You want to go out there and make plays. Being competitive, that's the type of mindset I have.

"Having that one-on-one time with Coach Kelly and Coach (Charley) Molnar; being able to have those 15 (bowl) practices…it helps in inordinate amount."

Following a Sun Bowl performance that included two touchdown passes – two others that should have been caught – and no interceptions, Rees was asked where his focus will be in the months leading up to Spring Practice; to August Camp; and to the season-opener.

"Try to take on more of a leadership role; work hard in the weight room and add some strength and speed. That'll be huge for me in the off-season," Rees said. "Knowing what's happening and being more comfortable with all the coaches; (the team's comfort level) should be even better than last year.

"Earlier in the year I probably forced a couple throws I shouldn't have. I learned from my mistakes. Get the ball out and live to fight another down. That's the mentality you have to have to limit turnovers."

Fittingly deferential to his senior teammates to the end, Rees still found opportunities both to cajole and appraise his veteran teammates.

"I let them know when I felt (a mistake occurred)," he noted of November practice sessions in which he would justly remark on an offensive teammate's mental error. "But in the heat of the battle (game days) their emotions are flowing just as much as mine," Rees added, noting the need for a calming influence on the sidelines when things inevitably went awry.

A fresh start

Newfound game experience aside, Tommy Rees remains a relative unknown and Dayne Crist remains behind the spring 8-ball.

The quarterback position, on the other hand, is light years ahead of its spring 2010 state.

"It's going to be a lot of fun this year because we have players that have our nomenclature down, that understand the offense," Kelly said of the upcoming spring competition. "So we're really going to fit what we do to our personnel and that to me, in Year 2, it becomes more about players than plays…you'll see Year 2 to be more about the players, and fitting what we do to all three phases and the players we have."

Kelly noted last week that four quarterbacks – not the six currently on scholarship – would eventually duke it out for practice reps and the starter's role. Crist and Rees will be among them; Rees, because of two essential qualities he's shown when the bullets were live.

"Here's what we learned about Tommy Rees," Kelly said in his post-season wrap-up. "He's accurate and he's tough. He's a tough kid. (Those are) two qualities that if you have to map them out, and put them on the board…I'll take those two.

"I think Dayne has that. I think (Andrew) Hendrix has that," Kelly continued. "All the quarterbacks we're going to have here, we're going to really have to pare down and find out who the guys are that are going to compete. That's why it's going to be fun this spring."

Fun for Kelly and his staff; fun for fans of both Crist and Rees – and Hendrix, and (fill-in your favorite, here).

But an ongoing challenge for those in line to guide the offense of the nation's most storied football program in 2011.

A Closer Look: Crist/Rees 2010

Note: Rees' 0-2/INT backup effort vs. Michigan and his 6-7 (plus 70+ yards passing), mop-up performance vs. Navy were completely omitted from all totals unless otherwise noted, as was Crist's non-descript 0-2 passing performance vs. Tulsa (prior to his injury). However, as it's relevant to any comparison, Crist's 26-yard scramble vs. the Golden Hurricane was included in every applicable instance.

Completion Percentage: Rees (60.6%); Crist (59.5%)
Attempts/Completions per game: Crist (36.5 attempts/27.75 completions); Rees (31.0 attempts/18.8 completions).
Passing yards per game: Crist (254); Rees (205)
Touchdowns/Interceptions: Crist 15/7; Rees 12/8 (including UM)
Times Sacked: Crist 16 (two per game); Rees 4 (0.8 per game)
Rushing Yards/TD: Crist totaled 52 rushes for 74 yards and four touchdowns. Longest runs covered 26 (injury), 19, 14, 12, and 10 yards (TD); Rees finished with 12 carries for minus two yards and no touchdowns. His longest rush was 12 yards vs. Utah.

Rushing attempts/yards per game, ND: The Irish offense totaled 923 yards on 244 carries with Crist at the controls; that's 3.78 yards per carry and 115 per game. Conversely, Rees' five-game totals under center included 725 rushing yards on 170 carries (4.26 yards per carry and 145 per game).

The Irish ran for seven touchdowns with Crist under center vs. three with Rees (not including one in mop-up duty vs. Navy). And yes, if you're wondering, 11 touchdowns is a pitiful season-end total, but that's a column for another day.

Points/yards per game: The Irish averaged 27 points and 355 yards per game in Rees' five games under center. Crist led the squad to 25.5 points and 385 yards per game in his eight contests. (Rees TD drive vs. Navy not included as the Midshipmen took mercy on their gracious visitors).
Defensive points allowed per game: Notre Dame yielded 24.5 ppg with Crist under center (including four separate games of at least 28 points against); The Irish limited foes to 13.4 with Rees at the helm with Tulsa's 27 the only high-scoring effort.

Non-offensive touchdowns scored by the Irish: Rees (2); Crist (0)
Non-offensive touchdowns scored against: Both Crist and Rees threw a Pick Six (Crist vs. Stanford; Rees vs. Tulsa). Notre Dame also surrendered a punt return TD vs. Tulsa.

Red Zone Turnovers: Rees committed two (Tulsa – you might recall that one – and Army) while failing to protect the football deep in Irish territory on four occasions, all at USC (INT, INT, Fumble, INT). Not included in the totals above is his initial emergency appearance: an ill-advised flea-flicker call that resulted in an interception by Michigan at the Irish 31-yard line.

Crist threw an interception at the MSU 6-yard line (line of scrimmage was the 29) and at the BC 18 (pass thrown from the 33 with the game secured) and also suffered two crucial miscues deep in his own territory: the aforementioned Pick Six vs. Stanford and a back-breaking INT – thrown from his own 7-yard line, intercepted at the ND30 – near the end of the half vs. Navy. The Midshipmen scored five plays later to take a 21-10 lead into the break. He lost fumbles vs. MSU and Stanford, the former on a 4th and 1 at the ND42, late in the 4th Quarter.

Wins/Losses: Rees (4-1/4-0 as starter); Crist (4-4/4-5 as starter). Extenuating Circumstances: Crist missed all but one drive (a touchdown) of the first half in a loss to Michigan. With him in the lineup, Notre Dame outscored Michigan 24-7.

Best Win: Crist (A 31-l3 handling of Boston College in Chestnut Hill followed by a 23-17 home win over Pittsburgh); Rees (take your pick from No. 14 Utah, chief rival USC or the Sun Bowl over Miami…but USC, of course). Top Stories