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Wimbush and Notre Dame’s on-field development aided by not heeding off-field talk

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About only a fifth of the country uses Twitter. Maybe that number is a bit higher or lower depending on what approximation of automated users is more accurate than another, but the primary point stands: The voices on social media are a minority, but they are also often the loudest.

Tom(my) Rees had to learn to look past that latter point and remember the former when he was starting as Notre Dame’s quarterback. As a freshman starter, that outside noise got to him a bit, the Irish quarterbacks coach acknowledged Tuesday. It continued to bother him during his sophomore year, too, in 2011.

Thus, Rees understands the lessons rising senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush needs to learn. As a first-year starter last year, Wimbush produced beyond any expectations for two months before stumbling throughout November and getting benched in the Citrus Bowl. The critics were far from few and the opposite of quiet.

“Anytime you’re a first-year starter, especially in the way media and technology and social media are, everything is right there at your fingertips,” Rees said. “It’s hard for a young man his age to block some of that out. As the year went on, we talked at length about you can’t pay attention to that stuff. You just can’t.”

For Rees, Twitter had not even reached its current critical mass six or seven years ago. The social media barbs were quite few compared to what flows forth nowadays. Nonetheless, Rees had positive influences, including his father, warning him of the follies of following social media, of reading the press, of noticing headlines. It took steadfast teammates such as former Notre Dame left tackle Zack Martin to get through to Rees, their argument helped by Rees “making a mistake off the field.”

Following an arrest in the 2011 offseason, Rees finally learned his lesson about what opinions matter and what ones do not, a lesson Wimbush may seem primed to learn after not seeing any action in the second half of the New Year’s Day victory over LSU.

“As you get older, you start to learn all that really matters is when I’m in this building, when I’m on the field with my teammates,” Rees said. “It’s their opinion, and how I’m working, how I’m preparing myself.

“Everything else will take care of itself.”

Wimbush was making progress in blocking out the noise last year, per Rees, and has now apparently left it by “the wayside.” That bodes well as Wimbush develops the on-field skills necessary to complete a season with the production level he displayed in September and October.

As much as that will hinge on mechanics — and it will, with Rees specifically mentioning Wimbush’s arm speed needing to match his foot speed in order to develop a rhythm on shorter routes — it will depend even more so on Wimbush’s comprehension of the game improving. Such should be expected from a quarterback who just finished his first season seeing live defenses.

“The biggest thing is recognizing the defense and understanding the playbook,” Rees said. “If you understand what the defense is trying to do, and where your answers are, that gives you the opportunity to play fast. The game starts to slow down for you.

“… When you start to understand why you’re calling a play for specific looks, it gives you the opportunity to really process everything at the line and deliver the ball on time.”

Every indication from Rees spoke well of Wimbush’s progress in the playbook, of his developing mechanics and of his ignoring the peanut gallery, but Rees would not commit to Wimbush taking a lead over rising junior Ian Book in the quarterback competition this spring.

“We’re taking the step forward where they are both getting a ton of work,” Rees said when asked directly if Wimbush has lost his starting role. “They both are getting opportunities with the ones and the twos. They both are getting the opportunity to go out there and make plays. We’re going to evaluate this as it keeps going.”

Perhaps that is just a party line and Wimbush is still entrenched as the starter. Perhaps it is very much the truth and Book is pushing to take the first snap in the season opener against Michigan on Sept. 1. Either way, what Rees (and Irish head coach Brian Kelly and offensive coordinator Chip Long) tells the world should not affect Wimbush. These headlines, articles and tweets linking to them should slip right past him.