Under Center, Under Pressure

O'Malley's Wednesday morning update focuses on the myriad scenarios that (suddenly?) exist for quarterbacks Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix.

Orlando -- For the better part of December I've considered three options regarding the division of Champs Sports Bowl labor for Brian Kelly's quarterbacks.

  1. Rees starts, plays at or above his normal level, and Hendrix sees 2-3 total series over the course of the game (Air Force, as an example, without the blowout score)
  2. Rees starts, plays poorly, and is replaced by Hendrix (Stanford)
  3. Rees starts, plays at or above his normal level, and Hendrix is a situational quarterback (new method, one fans have clamored for since the Air Force contest)

Those beliefs were forged because Kelly, when pressed earlier this month on his decision to stick with Rees despite recent struggles, offered, "I think, if you really want to pin me down on one thing, is the trust factor that our O-line has with Tommy, getting in the right protection. Michael (Floyd), Tyler Eifert…it's a decision that was made collectively as a unit."

Conversely, Kelly's comments this week indicate Hendrix could play as much as Rees even if the latter plays well:

"I want one guy to have the hot hand. If both of them have it, then obviously we've got to make it work," Kelly noted. "We're going to play them both and see how it goes. Florida State is really good. So we've got to see how both those guys handle the situation. They're both prepared…we've got plenty of time, there's no excuses. Both of them can go in there and play the game and we'll just kind of see how it goes."

As a result, I now view the potential division of labor as such:

  1. Hendrix has likely played very well in December practices and shown his ability to read defenses – on the field and in the film room – thus forcing Kelly to consider using him earlier in the contest, and potentially sticking with him over the more experienced Rees should the more athletic Hendrix better handle Florida State's defensive speed.


  2. Kelly is wisely refusing to reveal his hand, which means both will play, but Rees would likely take the lion's share of snaps if his performance is adequate to good, as pulling a quarterback for the sake of change is rarely advisable.

(Present) Risk vs. (Future) Reward?

Regardless of overall playing time at the position, it's still logical to assume Hendrix will be Kelly's choice inside the 10-yard line.

The offense stalled vs. quality foes in the red zone and Hendrix's presence gives the offense a running threat, a scrambling threat, and potentially an improved passing threat if he's better able to read and react to the defense after a month of practice.

Kelly noted earlier this week that Hendrix has shown progress as a No. 2 (or No. 1) quarterback, not just a change of pace:

"I think there's a different approach to it when you go into the meetings and (Hendrix) knows he better get the protection right as well," Kelly began. "He's worked with the first unit. He didn't do much first unit work when we were using him as a situational player. So building a relationship with the first group and the offensive line, I think obviously that's changed in his approach. And he knows he's not going in there with a package, he's going in there to run the offense."

Regarding the (wise) smokescreen option noted in the section above: I still believe Rees could play 75 to 80 percent of the contest if he avoids turnovers and moves the football. Shuffling quarterbacks has rarely proven prudent.

"We'll see how they play," Kelly said of the potential game day machinations between the pair. "They look good on the practice field, but that's only one part of the evaluation. I like the way both those guys have practiced and picked up their pace of play. We'll see. When you play a really good defense like Florida State, I think that's a really good test for both those guys."

If both play a fair amount, Kelly and the offensive staff will have a better grasp of the competition heading into the spring. The risk, of course, is that neither quarterback is able to establish a rhythm in what amounts to a nationally televised audition vs. an excellent defense.

"We're going to play them both. I don't think we have to worry about, ‘Well, we've got to be on this part of the field and the game has to be like this,'" Kelly said this week. "We'll just play them. Both of them have the ability in their preparation and their ability to go in there and play. We're just going to go in there and we're committed to playing both quarterbacks."

It's an ideal evaluation situation, arming Kelly with ample evidence for the off-season. But if neither triggerman can establish a rhythm, i.e., "the hot hand," Florida State's defense will provide both young signal-callers with plenty to think about for the next nine months as well.

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