Current quarterbacks coach and former Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees has been rumored to be the leading candidate to be his alma mater’s new offensive coordinator. The main push back on the 27 year old officially leading the Notre Dame offense has been how green he is. He’s never held a post above position coach and he’s never called plays during a game. The first contention is correct, he’s only been a position coach. The second, however, is not quite accurate. It’s true he hasn’t, to our knowledge, called plays as a coach. “As a coach”, though, is doing a lot of work here. He has called plays as a player.
How many times have we seen Ian Book go to the line, fake like he’s going to give the clap to signal a snap, and then look over to the sideline? He’s checking with Chip Long to see if he wants to change the play. Well, if Tommy Rees at quarterback does the same thing, but instead of checking with the sideline he just changes the play himself, he’s acting as the play caller in that instance. It’s something Rees did quite often and something we haven’t really seen from Notre Dame quarterbacks since he left.
Rees is probably the most polarizing player of the Kelly era. Some folks are going to take umbrage with this for the simple fact it’s a positive piece about Rees and his ability as a player/potential coach. This isn’t a piece advocating for Rees to be the offensive coordinator. I don’t know the other candidates, I don’t know what Rees has been doing behind the scenes or whether he’s shown any aptitude for setting up a game plan, which is a very important thing. I do know that his lack of arm strength, or his penchant to take chances with the ball, aren’t really relevant. He’s not going to be the quarterback again. And he has shown the ability to get his team out of bad plays and into good plays, in real time. That’s what this is about. If he does end up being the guy Kelly picks, we ought to be encouraged by this.
Reading The Blitz
It is interesting to me that the majority of the time Rees changes the play when he sees a blitz coming, it’s to a run play. It’s possible they already had a run on and he’s just switching the direction, but it’s also likely he can change to a hot pass if he wants to.
In the first clip from 2011, they are tied at Wake Forest in the third quarter and it’s 2nd and six. Rees sees a bunch of movement to the field side pre-snap, the safety creeping closer and closer to the line, and he correctly diagnoses a blitz from that side. He moves the back to the opposite side of the formation, to a run away from the blitz. Wake ends up sending the safety and the linebacker to the field, Notre Dame has numbers opposite, and it turns into a huge gain.
This is a similar situation against Michigan in 2011. It’s 7-0 in the first quarter and 2nd and 13. Michigan shows blitz with the linebacker and safety to the short side, so Rees calls run opposite. Michigan ends up sending those players, Notre Dame has numbers play side and it’s a gain of 16 and a first down.
Making Adjustments In Game
Something that started happening in 2013 was defenses started adjusting to Rees changing the play. This was especially true against the better defensive coordinators, and it happened early against Todd Graham and Arizona State. In the first clip, ASU shows a blitz coming from the nickel back, and Rees checks to a quick throw opposite. ASU, however, changes their blitz and ends up blitzing the corner from the opposite side. Rees looks right into the blitz, as he’s shifted the protection to the opposite side, and he tries to go quick to Davaris Daniels, but the pass is batted down at the line.
During the next possession, ASU shows the same nickel blitz, and Rees changes the play, as does ASU to the same corner blitz from the opposite side. This time, though, Rees calls a play to combat the corner blitz, not the nickel blitz. It results in a huge hole being opened up, and with better blocking a much bigger play.
This Is Just Evidence
Again, this is meant to provide evidence of Rees’s ability to diagnose a defense and get his team into a winning play, in real time. And he’s doing this at 21 years old, he’s certainly learned a lot more since then. There are a good deal more clips of Rees doing similar things with the blitz and the running game, but we get the point. There is a lot we don’t know about Rees from a play calling and game planning perspective and being able to make audibles isn’t a qualifier onto itself. But, I would point out that all the bad things about Rees as a quarterback don’t matter as a coach. It is the mental aspects of the position he used a player to overcome his physical liabilities that should be encouraging to us as fans.