Offensive coordinator Charley Molnar took time after Monday's practice session, the third of the spring, to talk about his three main pupils at the position.
Assessment Delayed38 minutes, 11 seconds. That's Dayne Crist's career playing time, the bulk of which was logged last season in the thriller at Purdue and in mop-up time vs. Washington State.
Has Molnar been able to glean much from his limited viewing of a limited Crist?
"I think Dayne is coming along; certainly I'd like to see a healthy Dayne Crist and then I can make a fair analysis of him," Molnar admitted. "But if you just look at three days he's certainly improved."
What specifically to Molnar and Kelly need to see to better prepare the redshirt-junior?
"We would like to see our quarterback run more and he really can't. And I'd like to see him involved in some contact drills (another impossibility this spring)," Molnar added. "We'll see the other guys (Rees and Montana) getting banged around a little bit, but right now we won't see Dayne carry the ball live."
Don't expect Crist's stats as a practice untouchable to last into August camp.
"It certainly makes it harder to assess (his ability/acumen) as we go into the opening game, but I promise you, when he's healed and healthy in summer camp, we're going to have to bang him around a bit," Molnar noted.
Though Crist is far from 100 percent and incapable of competing at his normal level this spring, he's nonetheless stood out among his peers in terms of his grasp of the limited offensive package to date.
"He's learned a lot of offense in the last three days and through the winter," Molnar explained of the supposed future starter. "Is he ready to play in a game? Absolutely not. Is he ready to play in the Spring Game? Absolutely not. But he has learned a lot and he has a good grasp of what we're trying to achieve on a day-to-day basis.
"But he has no idea on how to get ready for a football game; for us.
Crist is less than five months removed from ACL surgery, and part of his comeback remains as much mental as physical.
"You can see that he's not at top speed with his knee," Molnar continued. "He's cautious with it. I'm not going to judge and say he's overly cautious – that would be unfair, I'm not a doctor – but he is cautious with it.
"So from a physical standpoint he's not ready to play. And then from a mental standpoint, we've given him such a small, small part of our package, that we couldn't play a game with that much offense. We just have so much more to give and he so much more to learn."
Competing Every DayWhile most Irish fans feel Crist will take the team's first snap on September 4 vs. Purdue, the quarterback position, like the rest of the slots on the team, will be determined by the independent study of the coaching staff…not by popular opinion.
"It's open because at the end of the day when we line up vs. Purdue, the best quarterback will step out on the field. We're not married to Dayne Crist being the quarterback," Molnar offered. "We certainly know that he has experience (over Rees and Montana). He's certainly proven to be diligent and very conscientious but at the end of the day, the best man plays.
Though they collectively receive about the same number of reps as does Crist alone, Rees and Montana are prepared in the same fashion as their "veteran" position mate.
"Mentally (Crist's) ahead of the other guys and he's very confident in what he needs to do day-to-day – that doesn't mean he does it right, but he's confident going into every play.
"(Rees and Montana) have been given the same amount of information, they're just not where he is right now. He's picked it up quicker than they have."
Molnar on Montana: "Nate has certainly improved every practice. He has gotten better. You can see his wheels are spinning just a little slower than Dayne, mentally, but that doesn't mean at the end of the day that he won't surpass Dayne from a knowledge standpoint – just right now, Dayne has an edge on him.
"Maybe he's (Dayne) studying a little more when they go back to the dorm. Maybe Dayne studied a little bit more coming into spring ball; I can't answer that question. But Nate's not far off."
Though not specifically answering a question regarding Montana, Molnar offered this of improving a young quarterback's arm strength:
"We look at fundamentals. And it's not all about just arm strength – a guy with a lesser arm, if he can anticipate and get the ball out of his hand faster, he can still actually get the ball where it needs to get faster than a guy with a stronger arm.
"We spend a lot of time on feet and an awful lot of time on decision-making."
Molnar on Rees: "Tommy, if you could (choose) a guy that's made progress from Day 1 to Day 2 to Day 3, the most – he has made the most progress without doubt." Molnar was later asked if he needed to tweak the throwing motion of any of his charges.
"Coach Kelly and I are tinkerers. We certainly have a picture in our mind of what the throwing technique should be. If a guy is getting it there fast enough and his release is fast and he's not giving indicators to the defense on his release, we won't do too much with him at this time of year.
"But we'll constantly talk to him about proper technique and show him film of what good technique looks like and if a guy is inconsistent, we'll show him clips (of him throwing well and not well)
As for Rees' throwing motion?
"His arm action is pretty good; it's more his feet right now with Tommy. And he's very aware of it. He knows what he needs to correct and he's making a conscientious effort to do it," Molnar concluded.