Too close to call

Published 4:58 pm Thursday, August 18, 2011

Notre Dame senior Dayne Crist is in a quarterback battle with Tommy Rees for the starting job. Coach Brian Kelly said its too close to call as to who he will name the starter. (Vigilant/Argus Photo/AMELIO RODRIGUEZ)

NOTRE DAME, Ind. — About 10 days into his second camp, Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly met with the media Tuesday morning to discus the 2011 season.

While Kelly was pleased with the focus of his team, the focus of the large media gathered in the press box was on the battle for the quarterback position between Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees.

Kelly said that Crist and Rees had separated themselves from the rest of the contenders, but the race was too close to call when it came naming a starter for the season opener against South Florida Sept. 3.

Kelly also said that he was still on schedule to name his starter, which earlier in fall camp he said would come about 10 days before the opener.

But when he was pressed to discuss what he was looking for in a starter, he was a bit less certain.

“I’ll know it when I see it,” Kelly said. “It’s going to be the slightest of margins when we make this decision. I’m confident that both guys, if named a starter, will lead the team in a manner it needs to be led.”

Crist, a senior, is coming off another knee surgery. He was injured in the Tulsa game last fall and replaced by true freshman Rees, who helped lead an Irish resurgence the second half of the season and finish with eight victories and a trip to the Sun Bowl.

Rees then led Notre Dame to an overwhelming victory over Miami.

Crist for his part has never lost focus on trying to return to the No. 1 position, a battle he has waged with Rees despite their friendship off the field.

Rees threw his hat into the ring for the starter’s spot by letting his play speak for him.

In 2010, he played in nine games and started four of them and leading the Fighting Irish to four consecutive victories to complete the Kelly’s first season. Reese was 100-of-160 for 1,106 yards and 12 touchdowns.

The Sun Bowl victory made Rees the first Notre Dame freshman to lead the team to a bowl victory.

So what will separate the two quarterbacks when it comes to the final decision?

“It really is mastering the offensive system,” Kelly said. “And when I say mastering the offensive system, there are so many different things we can do in our offense, that the quarterback has to be able to be efficient in all areas.

“(It’s) getting in the right play, checking to the right protection, making sure the right people get their hands on the football. It’s more than arm strength and leadership capabilities. There are so many other things involved. There’s also now an added dimension, which is that we fell very confident about the kind of defense we play, so taking care of the football is a premium.”

While Crist and Rees are competing in a two-way battle for the starting spot, that doesn’t mean sophomore Andrew Kendrix or freshman Everett Golson will not see the field in 2011.

“Crist and Rees have separated themselves by virtue of their knowledge and ability to manage the structure we have,” Kelly said. ”They can take the whole offense and run with it. We have two quarterbacks that we have great trust and confidence in that they can play championship football for us. Then we have two young guys who have not mastered the entire off structure but have excelled in small doses. If either one of them entered the game they wouldn’t run the (entire) offense but there are some things they do very, very well. If they entered the game we would move toward where their strengths are.”

Crist also played in nine games before suffering the season-ending knee injury. For his career, the senior signal caller has played in 13 games, starting nine. Crist is 184-of-314 for 2,163 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Whoever is named the starter, they will have plenty of weapons, including senior wide receiver Michael Floyd.

Floyd was indefinitely suspended by Kelly during the off-season, but was reinstated prior to the beginning of fall camp. Floyd is one of the top receivers in all of college football and holds multiple Notre Dame records and is closing in a few more.

Kelly did not spend much time talking about Floyd, but did respond to a question about how ready his playmaker is for the upcoming season.

“Michael Floyd does not have any catching up to do from his perspective,” Kelly said.

While Kelly is pretty confident in his front line players, he is concerned about the team’s depth.

“I’ll put my 22 against anybody else,” he said. “That’s not going to be good enough. We’re still trying to develop that next group. We have got to get our best 22 on the field playing at a high level.”

Heading toward the season opener, Kelly is pleased with how his team came into camp ready to practice and prepare to be successful.

He noted that the team has been focused on football and does not get distracted.

The Fighting Irish will host South Florida at Notre Dame Stadium Sept. 3 with kickoff on NBC Sports slated for 3:30 p.m.