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Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Spring brings QB hunt to Notre Dame

Associated Press

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Brian Kelly is still searching for a quarterback who can make his spread offense click and avoid the turnovers that have often plagued the Irish during his first two seasons.

When spring drills begin Wednesday, he will be opening up a quarterback derby with a basic version of his offense so all four of the candidates will have a level playing field, so to speak.

The group includes Tommy Rees, who took over as the starter in the second game last season, and junior Andrew Hendrix, who became a change-of-pace choice for Notre Dame a year ago. The mix also includes sophomore Everett Golson, who sat out all of last season, and highly-touted recruit Gunner Kiel.

"If we started the spring with page 50 of the playbook, Tommy would be ahead of everybody. So not to put him at a disadvantage but to give it an equal footing for all, we've kind of scaled it back so the spring, it's going to give all the quarterbacks, including a midyear in Gunner and of course the two young guys, an opportunity to truly compete for the position," Kelly said Tuesday.

The coach said he does not have any kind of timetable in mind. He just wants the quarterbacks to understand the offense.

Asked if there was a chance he would use two quarterbacks instead of one this season, Kelly said he would prefer to have one guy who he can give a big hug to when he comes off the field after a touchdown.

Many times during his first two 8-5 seasons, Kelly has been angry at his quarterbacks, especially about turnovers. Rees, who started the final month of the 2010 season and then was beaten out for the starter's job last fall by Dayne Crist, took over when Crist was benched at halftime of a season-opening loss to South Florida.

Rees had 20 TD passes last season and completed nearly 65.5 percent of his passes, but he also threw 14 interceptions. Hendrix pitched two more picks, and the Irish were intercepted three times in a Champs Sports Bowl loss to Florida State when they blew a 14-0 lead.

"We threw way too many interceptions last year for me to be comfortable with," Kelly said. "I'm not used to seeing that kind of turnover rate and it certainly affected our won-loss record."

So the attributes his quarterback must display? "The ball coming out in a timely fashion, coming out accurately and then good decisions being made with the football," he said.

Notre Dame loses Michael Floyd, the leading receiver in school history. Other notable holes are on the right side of the offensive line where tackle Taylor Dever and guard Trevor Robinson are gone, and in the secondary, where corners Gary Gray and Robert Blanton and standout safety Harrison Smith must be replaced.

The Irish do return tight end Tyler Eifert, who caught 63 balls for 803 yards last year; star linebacker Manti Te'o, the team's leading tackler for two years running who decided to come back to school rather than head to the NFL; leading rusher Cierre Wood (1,102 yards); and they have veteran safeties in Jamoris Slaughter and Zeke Motta. Defensive end Kapron-Lewis Moore has recovered from knee surgery and is ready to go and veteran center Braxston Cave will be limited somewhat in spring drills after foot surgery. Left tackle Zack Martin and left guard Chris Watt are both back.

Kelly also revealed that running back Amir Carlisle, who transferred from Southern Cal and was available to play next season, broke his ankle in workouts and will miss spring drills. He said he couldn't discuss in detail why freshman defensive back Tee Shepard withdrew from school and returned home to California.