Thomas Rees’s playing career gives him unique perspective in evaluating Irish junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush. Unsurprisingly, Rees concurs with every other evaluation of Wimbush this spring: The presumptive starter looks and acts the part.
Rees’s playing career also gives him unique perspective in discussing the change and degree of change to the Notre Dame offense with new offensive coordinator Chip Long leading the charge. Rees knew only rish coach Brian Kelly’s offense, and it served the quarterback well. He sits third in the Notre Dame record books in career passing yards with 7,670 and second in career touchdown passes with 61.
“When I was here, we went through a lot of different phases of what we were doing,” Rees said Wednesday. “A lot of it was personnel based. Obviously I wasn’t running zone-reads and all that.”
Setting aside the differences in Rees’s skillset and Wimbush’s, the 2017 offensive scheme is similar to what Rees knew. Nonetheless, Long’s influence—particularly as it pertains to everyone’s favorite abstract concept, tempo—is noticed, according to Rees.
“The offense conceptually is still coach Kelly,” he said. “You still see a lot of the aspects there, but coach Long has brought a lot of his stuff to what we’re doing.
“We want to play fast. There are some details here and there that coach Long has done a great job of coaching up. It’s been a great blend to work with.”
While Wimbush’s inexperience may be his greatest hurdle and currently his most-noticeable inadequacy, Rees indicated the Kelly-Long offensive hybrid will give the quarterback plenty of chance to quickly prove himself.
“To me, it’s a very fun offense to play in. It puts a lot on the quarterback and understanding what we’re trying to do. I would have loved to play in it.”
While not getting to play in it, Rees does see the value of coaching in it. Only three years removed from his days in action, learning another offensive approach can only aid his young coaching career.
“You still see the same structure of the offense, and now coach Long comes in and adds his mix into it. It’s been a great job of learning from him and seeing what he’s really applied, the finer details that he’s coached up.”
HIESTAND ON A TIMETABLE AT RIGHT GUARD
Thanks to having four-fifths of his starters settled and working together, Irish offensive line coach Harry Hiestand is not too concerned with settling the competition at right tackle yet this spring. Through nine practices, sophomores Tommy Kraemer and Liam Eichenberg have split chances alongside senior right guard Alex Bars.
With only two options at the one spot as a variable, the offensive line is able to develop strong chemistry with each of Kraemer and Eichenberg, Hiestand said.
“They’re both getting pretty equal reps,” Hiestand said. “Everybody’s kind of used to them now. Maybe a little harder when we first started, but now [Bars] is used to both guys, it’s becoming less of an issue. We’re not going to force it.”
The right tackle question may be Hiestand’s primary concern this spring—undoubtedly the one he and Kelly will be asked about the most—but he also needs to sort out the Irish backups. For example, if graduate student left tackle Mike McGlinchey were to suffer an injury, would one of the aforementioned sophomores flip sides of the line in McGlinchey’s stead?
No, per Hiestand. Fifth-year offensive lineman Hunter Bivin would be the first to step into McGlinchey’s place.
“Then we’d have to see how serious it was before we flipped sides for those young guys.”
Unnecessarily looking ahead a year, such a switch could certainly occur following the 2017 season.
In a longer look at the Notre Dame offensive line, the South Bend Tribune’s Eric Hansen touched on a Hiestand anecdote this scribe did not know. Hiestand spent one season as the offensive coordinator at Cincinnati in 1993. On the surface, his time calling plays was an overwhelming success. Hiestand, however, could not stand it.
“I was excited to do it,” he said. “And then suddenly, I’m in the press box, and I didn’t feel like I was part of the game. I’m not even at the game.”
Hiestand quickly moved back to coaching the offensive line, where he has stayed ever since.
A RECORD BOOK FOLLOW-UP
Solely for the sake of thoroughness, Brady Quinn holds the Notre Dame records in both career passing yards (11,762, followed by Jimmy Clausen’s 8,148) and career touchdowns (95).