Not his first rodeo

While Tommy Rees prepares for his third quarterback competition in as many springs, classmate Andrew Hendrix has (re)focused his efforts on making the most of every rep in a wide open race.

One has started 16 games and has enough eligibility remaining to start 26 more; a number that would place him third in program history behind Ron Powlus and Brady Quinn for total starts.

The other, his classmate, made his field debut after watching 18 games in an Irish uniform.

Tommy Rees has already been through the wars, both on Saturdays and under heavy public scrutiny for two off-seasons. Andrew Hendrix began as an athletic curiosity but his meaningful field moments have coincided in three Irish defeats over the team's last seven contests.

Entering 2012, the junior pair serves as (relative) veterans and will continue a tradition passed down from recent leaders Jimmy Clausen and Dayne Crist, imparting knowledge to their closest competitors.

"Right now (finally) I've become disciplined enough to take mental reps, and I'm trying to get (Gunner Kiel) to do that," said Hendrix of his early relationship with his 5-star freshman teammate. "Not to say I wasted reps (in the past), but right now I'm doing a pretty good job with that."

According to Hendrix, Kiel is doing the right things, right away.

"He's always asking for reads, the playbook (etc.)," Hendrix noted. "If he doesn't understand something, he asks, and sometimes after a play I'll nudge him and be like, ‘What did you see out there?' because I can honestly say I was not as good at taking mental reps (in his first seasons) as I am now. When Tommy's out there, I'm looking at everything, pretending like I'm in there."

Here we go again…

For Rees, quarterback competitions have been a three-year collegiate reality. In 2010 he battled with Nate Montana for the backup role behind Dayne Crist, eventually earning the nod and winning all four of his starts while also bringing the Irish to the brink of victory in his first piece of extended action.

Last year it was a four-man battle with Crist, Hendrix, and then-early enrollee Everett Golson, but he and Crist were essentially vying for the role.

This spring it appears to be a four-man race, and it's hard to imagine anything less than a three-competitor derby well into August.

"I think my job is to help them get better," Rees said of his duties this spring. "I'm a veteran quarterback; I think I can help out. Whenever they have a need they can come to me, and especially Gunner, because I was in his position two years ago (Rees enrolled in January 2010). It's especially mine and Andrew's job to help him understand this is a team and we help each other."

According to head coach Brian Kelly, the "team" concept might continue well past the spring, summer, and August camp.

"If there's more than one, which I believe there's going to be, then certainly we're going to take (more) time," Kelly said in his most recent interview regarding the team's quarterback competition. "Because then you're trying to think about, ‘Are you playing one? Are you playing two…are you playing three?'"

Noticeably more confident, Hendrix is unfazed by the nature of the unique competition.

"I like to say I just keep my head down and ‘chop wood.' All I can do is just be the best me I can possibly be," Hendrix said following the team's third spring practice and first in full pads.

"Whether that is physically or mentally, I need to be at my peak and there's nothing else to do about it. Now whether Coach Kelly thinks I'm right for the offense or not, I have no say. And whether Tommy or Everett does better or Gunner, all I can do is be as good as I can be and leave the rest up to Coach Kelly."

(Well-known) Point of Emphasis

A grizzled veteran before his junior season begins, Rees has endured a full season as a starter; a successful month that helped save a previously disappointing 2010 season, multi-quarterback derbies, three spring sessions, two August camps, and three emergency relief appearances.

After all that, he's simply focused on becoming better in order to lead the team again. And one troublesome area was his off-season focal point.

"Limiting mistakes and turnovers," he stated. "Too many mental errors last year and things that I have to erase…I spent a lot of time in the film room to understand where things went wrong, and knowing how to avoid those mistakes in the future was my main focus (over the off-season."

To that end, Rees must learn to embrace what his head coach has repeatedly referred to as a "Zero Play," or one that simply doesn't lose yardage.

"I think all great quarterbacks know when to make a play and when to get out of a bad one," Rees said. "You can't make a bad play worse by trying to force it somewhere that you can't fit it in. I think that's part of the learning curve."

So too is aiding, but fighting off younger, promising, more athletically gifted challengers.

"I think his mentality is ‘You have to beat me out.' And that should be his mentality," offered new offensive coordinator Chuck Martin. "He's not worried about competition – its improvement. The beauty of the kids you recruit at Notre Dame is that they're all competitive, but it's a different animal. That's the great thing about coaching here. It doesn't get any better than coaching here."

The only thing better than coaching at Notre Dame is winning there. Rees, Hendrix, and/or one of their younger challengers will play an instrumental role in that goal this fall.

Note: Both Golson and Kiel will be featured in a subsequent feature. Top Stories