Does junior Andrew Hendrix have the most to lose if he doesn't win the starting job?
Legal issues notwithstanding, Hendrix's classmate Tommy Rees has plenty to lose as the incumbent starter, but Rees has had the opportunity to show his wares with 16 starts and another pair of relief efforts.
Redshirt-freshman Everett Golson is not in a dissimilar position from Hendrix, but he's eligible to play at Notre Dame through 2015, hardly time to panic if he's passed over in 2012. And true freshman Gunner Kiel is expected to have a full season grace period – as did Hendrix and Golson before him – to assimilate to the college game.
For Hendrix, it would appear the time is now, because if he doesn't start at the beginning, middle, or most important, at the end of the 2012 season, the strong-armed Cincinnati product would likely be hard-pressed to earn a first-time starting role entering his senior class season of 2013.
Hendrix technically has plenty of football left (three seasons if he were to apply for the extra year coming to him in 2014), yet somehow it seems time is running out.
Three Outcome ThreatHe has the arm, likely the strongest on the team though touch is not yet part of the package. He has the legs, both in terms of quick feet and, especially, straight-line speed with power to run through arm tackles.
Hendrix would keep every defense he faces honest with his ability to keep the football and sprint to the edge in Kelly's read-option attack. He's shown that. He's also shown a maddening propensity to gift-wrap possession of the football to the defense.
"I saw some things out there that they hadn't done in the past," said Kelly of his quarterbacks' efforts in the 2012 Blue Gold Game. "But yet two interceptions in particular where we've seen that movie before."
Hendrix's unnecessary encore was a presented to the chest of linebacker Ishaq Williams. Said Hendrix of the throw: "I have a tendency to try to force the ball. Maybe I'm a little too confident in my arm or what not. I'm not sure, but just a little more air and he's (Tyler Eifert) off to the races."
Irish fans saw a similar throw and same result against both Stanford and Florida State at season's end. Both passes resulted in easy interceptions and Hendrix likewise offered a gut-shot to the USC defense last October but the pass fell incomplete. That's far too many head-shaking throws over a 37-pass collegiate career, especially for an offense and head coach looking to eradicate the unforced errors that felled the football team in 2011.
Head GamesNew offensive coordinator Chuck Martin and Hendrix both joined the football program in 2010. Martin spent the first two seasons going against the quarterback as the Irish secondary/safeties coach. Since off-season workouts began over the winter, he's worked with Hendrix and his trio of competitors on a daily basis as the team's offensive coordinator.
The advantage of seeing both sides of Hendrix gives Martin a unique insight.
"I've been impressed with his ability to see it -- muck it up -- and then not come back and do it that way again," said Martin during spring's competition. "I was concerned, looking at it from the outside looking in: was he a guy that just couldn't see the field and sometimes just threw it to the other guy because he wasn't seeing it? To me if he's making a mistake now and then we run the same set vs. the same look, he's not (repeating the mistake), he's putting the ball where it needs to be."
One mistake Hendrix apparently continues to make is in his personal comportment. There are three positions on the football field that must, regardless of the circumstances, be able to immediately bounce back from failure: cornerback, kicker, and quarterback.
Whether a starter or reserve next fall, Hendrix will again experience that reality.
"A bad play happened and Andrew got that little body language that he gets, because he cares so much and he practices so hard," said Martin of a particular practice mistake. "This is the first thing we have to correct: 'When it goes bad Andrew, you have to turn around like you're Brett Favre.' It's just a different position and everyone (looks at you). When you have a starter, there should be a calming effect."
Necessary without question, just not immediately.
"Of the top 1,000 reasons why you win a football game, having a starting quarterback in July is not among them," said Martin of the forthcoming summer competition. "Hanging onto the football would be 1, 2, 98, and 99. If we get the guy out there that doesn't turn it over we're going to win some games."
Forward ThinkingNeither Hendrix nor his competitors will win the starting job this summer, but for the second time in as many seasons, June and July, coupled with August, will decide who lines up behind center vs. Navy to open the season. Hendrix can control only one aspect of QB Derby 2012:
"I like to say I just keep my head down and chop wood," he offered. "All I can do is just be the best me I can possibly be. Whether that be 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."
But as Martin noted in the spring, Hendrix, Golson, Rees, and Kiel, might have more 'say' in the outcome than they realize.
"We say it 60 times a day: ‘We don't decide who plays. You decide who plays. We don't decide who we throw the ball to. You decide.'
"Quarterbacks in particular, every day we're evaluating," Martin continued. "Hey we made these positive things happen which is awesome, but now you have to weigh it against the disastrous things that happened, because we lived through that six/seven plays can change the whole complexion of the whole year."
The Hendrix FilesHendrix last season completed 18 of 37 passes for 249 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. He added 25 carries for 162 yards and a score.?
?Best Moments in 2011: Hendrix made his collegiate debut in a special read-option package during a mid-season win over Air Force, finishing with six rushes for 114 yards, including a 78-yard sprint to the Falcons 2-yard line. He also hit each of his four throws for 33 yards.?
?Toughest moments last fall: Tossed one of two game-changing Irish interceptions in the fourth quarter during an 18-14 loss to Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl. Hendrix finished the contest hitting three of eight passes for just 24 yards while rushing for 26 yards on four carries.
Hendrix was sacked three times and intercepted during a comeback attempt (he entered with the Irish down 21-0 at the half) at Stanford to conclude the 2011 regular season.
?Head Coach Brian Kelly on Hendrix's top area for improvement: "I would say comfort within the offense and going out and commanding the offense. Going out there and going, ‘I'm the guy, let's go!' Just that confidence. That's what I want from him. That's what I need from him. "
(Does it not come easily to him?)
"Um, I don't know, to be honest with you, whether its just learning the offense and never being comfortable, of if he's never been required to do that, I'm not sure, but I know what I have to get from him. He can do it, he just has to do it consistently. He did some things today (final spring practice), that I can go back and say, ‘That's what I need right there. Give it to me all the time.'"
ObservationsHendrix possesses straight-line speed and toughness as a runner and a cannon-arm that can already make NFL quality throws to the opposite hash or into the deep zones. But throwing the ball harder and farther than others is not a true measure of functional football arm strength. Hendrix has yet to show the necessary touch on routes such as end zone fade passes and downfield seams that are staples of the team's passing attack.
His athleticism translated last year on designed runs and read-option keepers, but rarely in scramble situations, aka "Extending Plays" to locate open receivers downfield or merely escaping pressure/blitzes with movement in the pocket. At 6'2" 220, Hendrix has a sturdy frame to take on collegiate tacklers though his approach would take its toll over a 13-game slate rather than in the spot duty he saw last fall.
Despite his declarations to the contrary, it doesn't appear the game has yet slowed down for him, and that can only come with extended playing time.
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