Notre Dame QB battle underway

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The four-way competition to become Notre Dame's starting quarterback job is just getting started -- and it could be a long haul.

The Fighting Irish have three days of spring practices done, and only one in full pads.

Coach Brian Kelly has made it clear that all four players -- junior Tommy Rees, sophomores Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson and freshman Gunner Kiel -- will have an equal opportunity at earning the start when the Fighting Irish open their season on Sept. 1 in against Navy in Dublin, Ireland.

Kelly in no hurry to make a decision.

"I think if there's no clear break (in the competition) as we go through the spring, I think this process continues to evolve as we work through preseason camp," Kelly said after practice Saturday. "That's my take looking at it right now after the first couple of days."

Kelly simplified the playbook this spring to level the playing field for the younger quarterbacks still learning the system. Of the four quarterbacks competing, only Rees and Hendrix have taken snaps in a game for the Irish.

"If you hand the full playbook to those guys they'd be spinning, so I understand where they're coming from," Rees said. "That also can give me advantage that I've run it so much, I should be the most comfortable with it. I should be the guy that understands what we're putting in. I think it's probably the right way to do it to help everyone out."

Rees started 12 of 13 games last season, but threw 14 interceptions and lost five fumbles in an 8-5 season. Only five players returning on the offensive side have started more than the 16 games Rees has started in his Irish career, but the junior has accepted the competition.

"I think it's an open competition, but you want to compete and you want to have that mentality that you're going to take over the job," Rees said. "So I think there's definitely a competitive attitude, but you understand that the decision is going to be made for whatever's best for the team. It's just something you've got to go out and do and compete."

Hendrix's role increased in Notre Dame's final two games against Stanford and Florida State last season and brings mobility to the position. Hendrix was 18 for 37 for 249 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. He also ran for 162 yards on 25 carries for one touchdown.

Hendrix said the key to winning the job won't be his running.

"Granted, there is something to be said about a more mobile quarterback," Hendrix said. "But at the end of the day, the things that make an offense thrive are accuracy, lack of turnovers, things like that which any quarterback can do whether he runs a 5.5 or a 4.5."

Golson enters the quarterback competition after spending the majority of his freshman season working with the scout offense and running the systems of Notre Dame opponents to prepare the starting defense every week.

"Being on scout team going against the first team defense, it helped me out a lot," Golson said. "I got used to the speed of the game real quick and everything. I think the only thing I was lacking after that was just the footwork just because I didn't have a coach back there with me."

The 6-0, 185-pound Golson will benefit from closer coaching this season as the staff tries to harness the athleticism that earned him all-state honors in both football and basketball as a high schooler in South Carolina.

Kiel's been on campus for just two months, but the early-enrolled freshman was one of the most sought after recruits in the country. He has focused on soaking up as much as he can from the other quarterbacks, while challenging them at the same time.

Kiel said he's been impressed with the talent of the other quarterbacks as they've welcomed him to their group.

"They're very good. They know the plays very well and they know the timing and they're footwork very well," Kiel said. "They all want the same thing too and that's to get the starting job. The competition's high, but we're all friends."

Hendrix said quarterbacks need to improve together and let the coaches worry about the decision.

"We have to be better as a whole to be better as just one," Hendrix said. "I think we're doing it as a group, and I think in the end it will be beneficial to us and the entire team."