Why Not Tommy Rees?

Notre Dame 2013 Quarterback - Tommy Rees
Tommy Rees signals for a first down against Michigan, 2012.  Rees will start for the Irish in 2013.

The signing of Tommy Rees in 2010 brought little fanfare. Though no disrespect was intended, the fact remained there was little reason for Notre Dame fans to notice. Rees was a 3-star high school recruit with mostly Mid-American Conference offers and was never expected to truly be in the mix for the starting quarterback job. And ample reason existed for ND fans to overlook the underdog Rees.

Tommy Rees’s unheralded journey to Notre Dame

In the fall of 2010, ­5-star signal caller Jimmy Clausen exited for the pros. Enter the next 5-star, Dayne Crist, with years of eligibility remaining and a leadership style that netted him rave reviews at the Elite 11 combine, a national competition amongst America’s top high school quarterbacks. In addition, Notre Dame bested a late push by Urban Meyer at the University of Florida to land highly sought after 4-star quarterback recruit, Andrew Hendrix. The window of playing opportunity for Rees when he enrolled in the fall of 2010 wasn’t slim – it was slammed completely shut. And those are just the kind of odds Rees relishes.

Fast-forward to the fall of 2013 and no one could have predicted the turn of events. Heralded 5-star Dayne Crist never panned out, ultimately transferring to Kansas. Andrew Hendrix has gone toe-to-toe with Rees throughout the years and has fallen short. Even when heir-apparent Everett Golson led Notre Dame to an undefeated season, he couldn’t have done so without the intermittent play of Rees. When the game was tied and a two-minute drill was needed late in the 4th quarter to put Purdue away, Kelly deferred to Rees. When Golson suffered a concussion and was unable to play against BYU and an undefeated season hung in the balance, it was Rees who stepped up and kept the streak alive. He’s the kind of player who leaves every ounce of himself on the field knowing full well he’s not the quarterback Irish fans wish to see, yet he perseveres.

Looking back on Rees’ career at Notre Dame, it seems only fitting the quarterback given no chance, the quarterback who was always there when ND needed him despite the torrent of boos he received as gratitude, is the likely starter entering his senior season with the dismissal of Everett Golson. Though not always the starter, ND has been Rees’ team. When Golson needed a shoulder to lean on or advice as to what an opposing defense was showing, it was Rees there with an answer, guiding the young pupil without thought to his own status as backup.

Tommy Rees is a more than capable starter for Notre Dame

And why not Rees? His statistics certainly indicate his capability. In his three year career Rees has amassed a 63% completion rating as well as 4,413 yards, chipping in 34 touchdowns for good measure. He’s lined up and stared at the heart of the Michigan, Michigan State, USC and Miami defenses and emerged victorious. He’s done everything asked of him and has surpassed all expectations, cementing his position as a true underdog story worthy of respect.

Rees is uniquely postured for the situation, too. While Rees lacks the special playmaking ability and magic of Golson, he makes up for it in intelligence and his astute ability to read defenses. And with an emerging rushing attack and a running back unit armed with youthful talent unseen since the Holtz era, an opportunity exists for a dynamic offense. If Notre Dame is able to consistently run the football, Rees’ ability to read defenses, combined with a legitimate play action threat, could make Rees a force to be dealt with at quarterback.

Will Notre Dame succeed with Rees at quarterback, with sky high expectations after an undefeated campaign in 2012? There is no way to know with certainty. But what cannot be denied is that Rees has earned the opportunity to answer the question. This is Tommy’s moment, and one only he could have foreseen when the ink dried on his Letter of Intent to play football for the University of Notre Dame.

Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles as well as co-founded a nationally-featured non-profit organization. In his spare time he takes his NCAA Football ’13 online dynasty way too seriously and alienates those around him by discussing football 24 hours a day. Scott can be reached at scottjanssenhp@gmail.com.

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  1. He can come off the bench, but honestly he is just not that good. If he had been the started last year does anyone really believe they would have had the year they had? Also I really have to question the objectivity of this article with questions and statements like, “Will Notre Dame succeed with Rees at quarterback, with sky high expectations after an undefeated campaign in 2012? There is no way to know with certainty”. Yes there is, look at what he did when he was the starter. Also, “Even when heir-apparent Everett Golson led Notre Dame to an undefeated season, he couldn’t have done so without the intermittent play of Rees. When the game was tied and a two-minute drill was needed late in the 4th quarter to put Purdue away, Kelly deferred to Rees”. Here there was no way to know for certainty if Golson could have pulled it off, he wasnt given the chance. However if you look at his body of work its more than likely he could have if given the chance. Heir-apparent, really!? So even when started the whole season and led them to an undefeated year he is still only the heir-apparent? Granted in light of recent events Golson is now a non-factor. However this article smacks of bias. Tommy Rees is a second rate QB at best. Also him being a coaches son is big part of the reason he is quick to learn defenses, not everyone gets that advantage.

  2. This will not be a good season with this kid at the helm. We can run all we want but when Turnover Tommy is forced to throw its curtains. Look at all his turnovers at crucial times. I dont trust Rees with a penny let alone an entire football season. Love our defense and running backs but he is not a servicable QB and its extremely disappointing after such a wonderful season last year

  3. Tommy Rees probably has as much talent and ability as Steve Walsh and Miami won a National Championship with him in the ’80’s. Sometimes the system and the other strengths of the team can compensate for deficiencies at QB. Kevin McDougal, who QB’d ND to what should have been a National Championship in 1993 is another example, although he was avery good runner and an accurate passer. If Rees plays within his ability and the running game works ND should be OK.

    1. Disagree on the Walsh comparison. SW played 10+ years in the NFL which will not be the case for TR.

  4. Perhaps announcing Rees as the starter is just a big ploy. Teams prepare for Rees then out pops Zaire… Ok, I am probably just wishful thinking or hoping. I honestly hope Tommy has picked up his game and Zaire is a fast learner. We really need to take some of this constant pressure off of our defense and allow them to play aggressive and that can only happen if our offense really steps up this year and shoves the ball down our opponents throat. Go Irish

  5. Tommy doesn’t stand a chance.

    Half of you have the defenses stuffing the box with 8 guys. The other half of you have 8 dropping into coverage. How is he ever going to succeed against a 16 man defense?

  6. We’ll be just fine – Rees will do fine.

    Let’s not forget ND’s last NC – Tony Rice was never a rave QB – he did what he had to do. Lou built an offense around his talents and around his limitations. But – we won it.

    The next time after that I saw him he was standing in line behind me for a ticket to the 1994 Blue-Gold game, but that’s another story for another time.

    BK was smart to get the question out of the way he did and now he has 3 months to design an offense around TR, and we will be fine.

    Prediction – 10-2 or 11-1.

  7. Right on Scott,

    Although I like Zaire better for raw talent. I really don’t like 3 and 4 man derbies with everything up in the air. I like how BK has named Rees as our starter. It definately eliminates some of the early QB neophobia. So it is Rees’ job to loose. Further, the way BK coaches, QB’s have to eliminate errors or your riding the pine; clearly stated recently! So, technically, we still have a continuous derby without being in the dark. Best error free QB stays on the field defined by BK’s expectations. Seems feasible to me.

  8. I agree with Rob, it is tough to get thrown into the fray when the game is on the line. Look at the pass he threw to TJ that if it were not for a great catch, that’s no TD. However, if he gets the reps and plays within himself, then he may be allright. In addition, I have yet to see him BE a miraculous reader of defenses. Most of his picks were not from poor reads, they were obvious locks on receivers and threw the ball to them irregradless of whether they were open or not. Maybe that is more of an inability to check down that call the right play at the line. Even my armchair anaylsis can be wrong. I do wish him the best and I hope that all goes well for the team. I really do hope that EG comes back.

  9. I know we all want to talk ourselves into Tommy but he’s just not that good. We all know he has next to no athletic ablity and below aveage arm strength but now people are trying to say he is great at reading defenses and making good decisions but its just not true. He got the nickname Tommy Turnover for a reason. He has no pocket presence and makes bad decisions. The last meaningful pass he through last year was right to a Pitt defender. The longer he plays the easier it is for a D to figure him out. I’m sure he’s a good kid and will try his best but he’s over matched. He’ll be fine against Temple and Navy but athleic Ds will kill him.

    1. He got named Tommy Turnover when he was a sophomore after throwing 14 picks in 1 season. 3 less than the almighty Jimmy Clausen threw as a sophomore after starting most of his freshman year. Jimmy didn’t make great decisions as a sophomore until towards the end of the season in the Hawaii bowl. And coming off the bench cold is not an easy task so I don’t pay much attention to last year since he played very little and other than the BYU game, he always came in off the bench. I think if Tommy can have a whole summer and Fall camp as the #1, practicing with the 1st team offense and getting the most reps, he will find his rhythm and be better than many believe.

      1. Let’s not compare Clausen and Rees. Clausen played behind a terrible O line with no running game and was always playing catch up because the D was terrible. Even though Rees “only” had 14 ints as a sophomore he also lost a bunch of fumbles because he has no pocket presence. Since he is no threat to run teams will drop 8 into coverage and force him to beat him with his arm which he can’t do.

  10. I feel bad for TR. Does anyone else remember why he didn’t start before TheKStateQB? (name escapes me – used to be with the good guys) Because he was a college kid and got in trouble for drinking. On the field, though, he has shown maturity. The issue I’m concerned with (as well as 90% of the others on this board) is his ATHLETICISM. But we must not throw the team under the bus with Tommy. It’ll be a challenge for BK. But hey – I believe it (QB situation using TR) can be made to work.
    Be positive.
    Take deficits and use them as advantages.

    1. (PS, 2-minutew later)
      PS – My penchant-for-positivity comes from having recovered from very, very serious trauma. It’s a lot easier to win when you’re confident; and it’s a lot easier to be confident when you practice a positive attitude. Amen. GO IRISH!

  11. Rees wouldn’t start at Ohio University, what makes anyone think he will be successful leading a big time program. He’s a good relief pitcher / QB but not a starter. He has a weak arm and makes horrible decisions. I say suck it up let the freshman start and get experience. This is a throw away year so give the young guns a shot.

    Golson sure did screw up!

    1. “This is a throw away year”

      I’m sure the defense that was a big part of ND making it to the NC game last year would love to hear a comment like that. Guys that have 1 more shot at getting a NC are probably just praying that Kelly gets the freshman experience for future years. They trust Tommy and contrary to what many fans (who don’t ever forget anything) believe, Tommy can manage the offense and actually give those seniors a shot at the very least a BCS bowl. Tommy isn’t a true sophomore anymore and his decision-making has improved drastically since 2011.

  12. Expect a ton of eight men in the box on “D” against our Irish.

    Expect at least 10 pressing us tight to the line of scrimmage against us to limit the quick and/or slant pass.
    And your running game is impacted when opposing “D’s” crowd the line of scrimmage as they will.

    I love Tommy’s heart and head.

    It’s his legs and arm I’m concerned about.

  13. All that makes a nice story of perseverance by an underdog quarterback. Unfortunately, it’s not quite true. His father’s coaching of him since he was in mid grade school and Tommy’s intelligence and knowledge of the game were well known at the time he enrolled. He enrolled in January specifically to get a head start on learning the offense because it was clear that Notre Dame might need him to play already as a freshman.

    That season the other quarterbacks were Nate Montana, an untalented walk-on, and late-enrolling Andrew Hendricks and Luke Massa. It was well known that Hendricks had played in an offense that had not required him to pass much in high school. Crist had suffered a severe knee injury the season before, and it was not clear if he would be able to play a full season in 2010.

    So every knowledgeable Notre Dame fan knew the significance of Rees’ early enrollment and knew that he might well be pressed into service that season. As a freshman, Rees quickly became the backup quarterback, ready to step in and save the season when Crist again went down with a major injury.

    In short, preparation, recognition of opportunity and the ability to take advantage of it have been Rees’ calling cards from the beginning.

    1. We can also do what Holtz did during his career,especially during his first game with mich, Screens, Traps and Draws.
      Don’t worry about Tommy he will do well…Go Irish

  14. Rees is great kid/ However, his lack of mobility + mediocre arm = 8 to 9 wins this year at best + probably 1 game where we may lose by 2 or 3 tds because he can be a t/o machine at times.
    I hope Kelly sees fit to start Zaire instead w/ Rees coming out of the bullpen like w/ Golson last year. This gives as a shot to win 10 or 11 games and go to a bcs plus gets Zaire ready for a NCS run in 2014.

    1. I think Kelly has seen a lot more from Zaire than the rest of us and knows if he is ready to be the starter as a true freshman. There is no way to know if starting Zaire would give us 10/11 wins or 6/7 wins. Most true freshmen that have started for ND in recent years have not done well. Our highest rated QB recruit during the internet recruiting years started as a true freshman and ND had the worst offense in a long time. I don’t want to see that happen again. If Zaire performed anywhere close to the way Clausen did in 2007, our defense won’t be able to help us enough to win 10 games. Rees gives us the best chance of managing the game and allowing our D to win games for us.

  15. One thing is missing when talking about expectations this year and that is the winning attitude this team has discovered. Last years close games were games that allowed this team to believe that they can win close games after years of losing close games. The beating they took from Alabama reminded them that there is still some work to do.

    I believe in Coach Kelly and his coaches, they will have this team prepared to play no matter who is at QB. Rees sitting behind Golson last year has probably made him a bit better and hungrier. He is by far the QB on the team grasping the Offense. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. This team is far better at QB now than it was when we lost Quinn and Clausen.

    Kelly has changed the culture at ND where expectations are high every year. I know we have lost some recruits and players to tranfer, but he is getting his fair share as well. The team that is here has depth and talent and will produce on the fiels this year. Kelly hasn’t won over 70% of his games because he can’t coach. I think he is finally comfortable with his position at ND and this will be a good if not great year.

  16. I feel comfortable with Rees at QB as far as keeping them in games. What’s key is the running game. If it emerges, it can help him and the team get some W’s.

    Like last year, there’s 3-4 games that will test ND – Michigan, Oklahoma, USC and Stanford. I anticipate the ND defense keeping the score close. If we have no running game, they’ll stack the line and eat Rees alive. If we can keep them honest, then we can take advantage of his audibles, reading defenses, accuracy, etc.

    A solid running game = 10-12 wins.

    Poor or mediocre running game = 9-10 wins.

    1. Spot on Patrick,

      Contrary to professor dumko, I would like to see us convert a small lineman to fullback to help the running game along; by blasting large holes on the 20 would be great! Even Nix on the 20 like during the Blue/Gold! Hopefully BK was indeed sending us a wild message. Hahaha!

  17. Let’s face it, unless Tommy takes this team to at worst 9-3 and a bowl appearance the season will be looked upon as a failure and he will always be compared to Golson and not living up to the standards expected from ND. Fair…..I think not but nevertheless true. There are so many other ifs in the ND roster. For example running back. How about recievers and tight ends.
    Will the defensive line be up to the task. Everyone will be gunning for them. the team will need time to grow and with their schedule, they just do not have the time. My prediction……ND & Rees do just fine 9-3, 10-2 and a BCS Bowl birth and as long as they don’t have to play that pro team in Alabama, probably a bowl win. Go Irish!

    1. “as long as they don’t have to play that pro team in Alabama, probably a bowl win. Go Irish!”

      semi pro.

  18. Scott,

    I thought you meant what we currenty have in our RB stable. I agree with you that the incoming RBs are all very highly touted. You just never know how that will transition to the college level, but lets hope these Freshmen coming in will be gamebreakers!

  19. This article mentions our running back talent, possibly at it’s greatest since the Holtz era???? I’m not so sure what you are seeing with our running backs this year, but I think that is what is going to keep us from having a decent offense this year. Do you really think that our running backs this year are better than Riddick and Wood? You’re crazy if you think that. Sure Atkinson has speed, but how often does a running back ever break loose. This guy is still a north and south runner who runs straight up. He is still a track guy learning how to be a running back. We don’t know what Carlisle has because he is always hurt. And I know everyone loves Cam, but c’mon guys…sure he runs hard, but c’mon. Unless Bryant and Folston are absolute studs, our RBs aren’t going to be an area we can rely on.

    This being said, we will have to rely on Rees more than we want to, which means good defenses drop 8 into coverage, which means Rees has to put the ball in tight holes which takes a strong arm which he just doesn’t have. It’s going to be tough for Rees to succeed if we can’t run the ball. I think he reads the defenses better than any QB we have. I think Rees is very accurate with his throws and always gets the ball out on time. But his physical limitations on arm strength is scary for the scenario I laid out above. Also, we need one of our unknown receivers to step up this year, which always does seem to happen. Rees needs that security blanket like he had with Eifert. I hoping Corey Robinson plays early and plays often. From what I heard, this kid is a freakin animal and catches anything near him…plus he is a big kid.

    You just never know going into a season what is going to happen. I hope we go out and score a ton of points and move the ball up and down the field, which could happen. I’m just making a pre-season observation based on what I have seen up to this point.

    1. Greg Bryant is the highest rated running back Notre Dame has signed in the Internet recruiting era. And though he won’t enroll in 2013, ND has also received a committment from 5-star Elijah Hood. ND had signed one 5-star recruit at running back during the Internet era. In the past two seasons we’ve landed back-t0-back 5-star running backs. When it comes to pure talent, which is what I mentioned in the article, ND has brought in the best running back haul since Holtz.

      ND’s talent at running back is unproven, but I think you’ll see we’re in much better shape than many think.

  20. “Will Notre Dame succeed with Rees at quarterback, with sky high expectations after an undefeated campaign in 2012?”

    Tommy Rees has shown solid ‘cool hand Luke’ capabilities in past games. He is a senior which equivocates with experience always a good omen. I can not stress this enough in todays highly competitive CFB environment having two interchangeable quarterbacks is the “only way to win!!”

    1. I understand that he is the only option. Hendrix isn’t ready…we can’t burn Malick’s red shirt year. However, when Tommy was the full time starter he accounted for 80% of our turnovers. I hope he has improved!

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