With Brian Kelly and Notre Dame holding their second media day, this one with a national twist, Kelly was given the opportunity to essentially answer the same set of preseason questions for a second time, only this time from reporters at the New York Times and USA Today.
For those that have been following along closely, that means more of the same on guys like Michael Floyd, Manti Te’o, Cierre Wood and Darius Fleming. But when it came to the four-man quarterback race, Kelly finally conceded that it’s all but down to a two-man race between senior Dayne Crist and sophomore Tommy Rees.
“Here’s where we are — Crist and Rees have separated themselves,” Kelly said from the podium in Notre Dame’s pressbox. “They can take the whole offense and run with it. Then you’ve got two young guys that have not mastered the entire offensive structure, but have excelled in small doses.”
In reality, this is what many expected when spring practice ended last year with a Blue & Gold game that featured Everett Golson and Andrew Hendrix getting the lion’s share of snaps, while Crist and Rees played just sparingly. And while neither Dayne nor Tommy bring a running threat to Kelly’s offense, it’s clear that they supply the Irish the best chance to win football games now.
“It really is mastering the offensive system,” Kelly said. “When I say mastering our system, there are so many different things we can do with our offense, that the quarterback really has to be efficient in all areas. Areas like getting us in the right play, checking to the right protection and making sure the right people have their hands on the football.”
As the Irish finish their final week of installation before moving to two weeks of preparation for South Florida, it’s clear that while the race that will inevitably be determined by “the slightest of margins when we make this decision” the coaching staff while choose from two quarterbacks with very different skillsets.
Just ask offensive coordinator Charley Molnar.
“Dayne has the stronger arm, but you’re really splitting hairs,” Molnar said. “He probably throws a little better deep ball. Tommy probably throws the short to intermediate passes a little bit better than Dayne because he gets the ball out of his hands so fast.”
Credit Kelly and his offensive staff for keeping this decision as buttoned up as it’s been, all while answering questions about the quarterback derby seemingly every day. Still, if you had to read the tea leaves, I still expect Crist to be the guy that’s running the offense come September 3, unless something major happens between now and then.
If there’s a worry that Crist will still look like the hesitant, sometimes learning on the job quarterback that he was at times last year, Kelly isn’t showing it.
“He’s a much better football player than he was last year,” Kelly said of Crist. “His demeanor, focus and buying into the Brian Kelly football system, all those things have made him a better player and a better quarterback.”