Pardon His Progress

Sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees has a legion of Irish fans in his corner after 10 wins in his first 12 starts. Yet nearly as many seem ready to move onto the next great (unknown) thing…

Do you see him as a winner, or a stopgap signal-caller until something better comes along (or develops within)? Because few Notre Dame fans view the team's slightly-built sophomore quarterback as anything in between.

Do you consider him particularly accurate? Considering he's technically the most accurate passer in school history (65.1 percent – a number unlikely to ever dip down to the No. 2 slot of 62.6), and presently the second-most accurate Irish QB in any single season (67.2 percent this fall), you'd be well within your rights despite the myriad interceptions.

Or do you harp on the number of interceptions: 11 this year, 18 in all, the latter number a bit disconcerting for a modern-day QB who's played less than 15 full games.

Tommy Rees is a polarizing figure among Irish fans: some want him replaced immediately to prepare for the future (I'm joining the rest of you in the real world for a collective eye-roll); others believe he's a winner, and at 10-2, that argument has merit. But was Carlyle Holiday (15 wins vs. 7 losses) a better quarterback than Jimmy Clausen (16 wins, 18 losses), or did only one of the two have the benefit of a functioning defense (as does Rees)?

Most level-headed fans have embraced the notion of an open quarterback competition in the spring and through next August – similar to the battle Rees lost last off-season under the controlled environs of the practice field.

Nearly all, even those who can't get past the Sirens' Song of a backup that's never taken a college snap, understand Rees is likely a work-in-progress as a 20-year-old triggerman.

"He's really close. He has not put his best game together yet," said Rees' head coach Brian Kelly. "We're still not where we want to be on the vertical throws. We're better. He threw one of his best throws to Michael (Floyd) in the end zone where he actually had some air to it, where Mike could go up and get the ball on the double move touchdown.," Kelly said of Rees' first touchdown toss vs. Maryland Saturday night.

"But in terms of efficiency, 30-for-38 (vs. the Terrapins), pretty darn good. He's accurate as we all know. And I thought he played as fast as he can play. We'd like to get him to play a little bit faster, but we've worked really hard in practice over the last six weeks in terms of trying to get him to go and I would say this game was probably his best game as it relates to efficiency and tempo."

Horizontal Haze?

Notre Dame will continue to regularly handle middle and lower tier foes with an offense predicated on running the football, and its short, controlled passing game as the compliment. But matchups vs. the quicker defenses the sport has to offer can wreak havoc vs. such an approach when little or no vertical threat exists.

"There are so many pieces that we're trying to develop with Tommy and the last piece for him to move up to that next level is the deep ball," Kelly admitted. "He's capable of throwing it, but there's an evolution to that. We're spending more time on it. The last few weeks it's been a point of emphasis, we'll continue to work on it. But there were so many other things that we had to work with first before we got to this."

Of Rees' 31 career touchdown passes to date, 13 have been thrown outside the opponents' red zone, though three of those 13 involved short passes with 20+ yard runs to pay dirt (one last year to Cierre Wood, and one to both Theo Riddick and Tyler Eifert this season).

Rees has hit for nine scores in excess of 20 yards this season; seven were thrown from beyond the 20-yard line and five would be considered by most to be shots downfield, over the top of the defensive secondary (four to Michael Floyd; one to T.J. Jones). Rees also hit Riddick and Eifert for relatively uncovered seam-route scores of 29 and 38 yards, respectively, the former a would-be game-winner at Michigan in Week Two.

"I believe this is the next step in his progression as a quarterback," Kelly continued. "If can continue to grow in that area, and a lot of it is technical, it's not mental. He has to do some things with his arm slot and his arm angle to be more effective and we're working on those things."

If Rees develops that element of his game before mid-to-late September next season, he'll likely add exponentially to another relevant program statistic over his final two seasons:

Total starts…and we already know he can win them.


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