George Atkinson III made an impact on Saturday's Blue-Gold Game with 124 yards on 15 carries. (Daily News Photo/AMELIO RODRIGUEZ)

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Scott Novak: ND quarterback depth chart shifts

Published 3:59pm Sunday, April 22, 2012

NOTRE DAME – The scoreboard read that the Gold team, Notre Dame’s defense, defeated the Blue squad 42-31.

But Saturday’s 83rd annual Blue-Gold Game at Notre Dame Stadium wasn’t about offense or defense. What the 31,000-plus fans came to see is who will be the starting quarterback for the Fighting Irish this fall.

Those fans left not knowing any more than they did before they took their seats.

It’s true there may be a shuffling in the depth chart now that Notre Dame’s four signal callers have taken the field in the final of 15 spring practices.

From where I sat high atop the stadium, sophomore Everett Golson had the best day. He would be my No. 1 quarterback coming out of spring drills.

After all, he had the best statistical numbers, led the Fighting Irish to a pair of touchdowns and was the only one of the four quarterbacks not to throw an interception. But there were imperfections with his performance as well.

Golson finished the day 11-of-15 for 120 yards and two touchdowns. But he took too much time getting plays called and there were mix-ups as well.

They were not lost on Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly.

“The stats really don’t mean anything to me,” he said. “What I didn’t like was that he’s got to get the plays in quicker. He’s got to recognize the signaling. If I’m not out there getting guys set and making sure he knows what the play is, we’re going to have flags thrown all over the place. So those things don’t mean as much to me as they do managing the offense. We are making progress there, but we’re nowhere where we need to be.”

To me, Tommy Rees looked to have the poorest performance. I know he’s 12-4 as a Notre Dame starter, but I saw the same mistakes and the same inability to make certain throws that had Irish fans calling for a quarterback change throughout the 2011 season.

Listening to Rees after the game, he seemed to shake it off and still considers himself the No. 1 quarterback on the Notre Dame roster.

“I think you’ve go to approach it as a starter,” he said after the game. “You have to have that mentality and you have to be a leader out there. Just take it one day at a time and do everything you can to get better. Summer’s a big time for individual development. It’s been a big time for me in the past, so I’m going to continue to try and grow throughout that period.”

If summer truly is the most important time of development as an individual, then Rees is in big trouble.

I felt he regressed last year. He looked to be a solid starter when he came in and played as a freshman, but appeared to be lost at times during last year’s campaign. He certainly appeared to have lost his confidence.

If Golson, Andrew Hendrix or freshman sensation Gunner Kiel make strides over the summer and into the early portion of fall camp, Rees will be relegated to standing on the sidelines next to Kelly. Personally, I feel that’s where he belongs because I have yet to see him be proficient in throwing the deep ball consistently.

Notre Dame needs to stretch the field in order to open room for its talented tight end Tyler Eifert to work. It also needs to keep the defense honest so it cannot come up and crowd the box and take away the Irish running game.

Speaking of the running game, a start may have been born Saturday afternoon in sophomore George Atkinson III.

He electrified the crows on multiple occasions as he rushed for a game-high 124 yards on 15 carries. He also caught three balls out of the backfield for another 54 yards.

Cierra Wood also looked good and will be the starting running back when Notre Dame heads to Dublin to take on Navy in September.

All-in-all I thought Notre Dame showed signs of improvement from last season. The defense played well despite the loss of Aaron Lynch. The secondary, which is young and inexperienced, held up well.

So spring football is now behind us and it’s time to take a breath and relax until camp opens next August.

It will be here before you know it.

Scott Novak is sports editor for Leader Publications. He can be reached at scott.novak@leaderpub.com.

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