After Rees leads Irish to victory, Kelly says Golson still No. 1

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After Rees leads Irish to victory, Kelly says Golson still No. 1

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- With the score tied at 17 and about two minutes left in Saturday's game against Purdue, boos rained down from the stands as Notre Dame's offense took the field. That's because Everett Golson was no longer in at quarterback -- instead, it was Tommy Rees.

Coach Brian Kelly said Golson hurt his hand on his last play, which coincidentally was a fumble that set up Purdue's game-tying touchdown. But minor injury or not, Rees was coming in, according to Kelly. And he led a scoring drive that resulted in Kyle Brindza hitting the game-winning field goal, handing Notre Dame a 20-17 win.

Although that doesn't mean Golson has lost his spot as Notre Dame's No. 1 quarterback.

"There is no quarterback controversy," Kelly said. "Everett Golson is our starter. He will start against Michigan State. We know we have assets at that position with Andrew Hendrix and Tommy Rees."

Golson certainly didn't do anything to lose his job, completing 21 of 31 passes for 289 yards and one touchdown. With Purdue stacking the trenches and shutting down a Notre Dame rushing attack that gouged Navy last week in Dublin, Golson was forced to drive the Irish offense, and he did so successfully.

"Purdue made up their mind that they were going to have a loaded box today," Kelly said. "That was it. You're not going to run the football."

But a pair of injuries to DaVaris Daniels (ankle) and Tyler Eifert (mild concussion) contributed to Notre Dame's offense grinding to a half for most of the third and fourth quarters. With the offense stalling, as Rees trotted out to take his place under center most of the crowd seemed to think Golson had been deposed as the No. 1 quarterback.

The boos came almost instantly as Rees' name was announced. After a few early incompletions, the vocal displeasure continued.

"I was a bit surprised," linebacker Manti Te'o said of the booing. "But I think Tommy knew it didn't really matter because he knew what was most important is the guys out there on the field, and the guys on the sideline trusted him and had confidence in his ability to make plays."

"I don't agree with that at all," offensive lineman Zack Martin added. "A guy like Tommy, it just fuels his fire. He's been through a lot. I'm so proud of him and so happy for him that he was able to answer the bell today and lead us down the field."

There was at least one person not on the Notre Dame sideline who liked the decision, though -- that being Purdue coach Danny Hope.

"I thought that was a really good decision by their head coach," Hope said of inserting Rees. "That was a pressure situation and certainly would have been a tough assignment for a rookie quarterback. I was kind of excited about the idea of maybe having a rookie quarterback in there on the last drive -- I thought that may have given us an opportunity to get after him some and get ourselves in a good position to win."

Instead, it was Rees who put Notre Dame in a position to win. He converted on third-and-6, narrowly avoiding a delay-of-game-penalty and floating a pass to John Goodman on the near sideline for a gain of 10. His strike to Robby Toma accounted for 21 yards and moved the Irish within field goal range for Brindza, whose 27-yard attempt sailed through the uprights to give Notre Dame the victory.

"That's what I knew about (Rees) and his makeup, his moxie, his mental toughness," Kelly said. "Does he has all of the elite skills? No. But he's a gamer. He'll do anything. Those guys in that locker room will go to the wall for him. They'll do anything, because he's a great teammate."

"It was no surprise to us that he could drive down the field, put us in a situation to win the game," Te'o added. "It just goes to show the work that he put in, just his poise, just preparing himself in any way he could help us to continue."

Whether Rees was Notre Dame's No. 2 quarterback wasn't known leading up to the Purdue game, as he was listed with Hendrix in that spot on the depth chart. But just because he entered the game in the fourth quarter Saturday doesn't mean that battle has been decided.

"Tommy's a guy, if you look at it in baseball terms, he's a closer. He can close for you," Kelly said. "Maybe your middle relief guy is Hendrix. But maybe next week it changes."

But one thing that won't change is Golson's place atop the quarterback depth chart, even if his development process may have a few bumps along the way.

"We're going to have some growing pains," Kelly said. "But we won today. He was our starter. He's 2-0, 1-0 in terms of playing a Big Ten opponent that was pretty darn good. So that's a good start for him."

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Bears DL Akiem Hicks making the most of a chance the Saints never gave him

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Living well is indeed the best revenge, and sometimes nothing feels sweeter than proving doubters wrong. Akiem Hicks is savoring that exact feeling.

When the New Orleans Saints made Hicks their third-round pick in the 2013 draft, they typecast their big (6-5, 318 pounds) young defensive lineman as a one-trick pony.

“There were people in New Orleans that said, ‘You can’t rush the passer,’” Hicks recalled after the Bears’ win Sunday over the San Francisco 49ers. “They told me from my rookie year, ‘You’re going to be a run-stopper.’”

This despite Hicks collecting 6.5 sacks and 3 pass breakups as a senior at Regina in Canada. The Saints forced Hicks into the slot they’d decided he fit – nose tackle – then eventually grew disenchanted with him and traded him to New England last year – where he collect 3 sacks in spot duty.

Interestingly, Bears GM Ryan Pace was part of the Saints’ personnel operation. Whether Pace agreed with coaches’ handling of Hicks then isn’t known, but when Pace had the chance to bring Hicks to Chicago for a role different than the one the Saints forced Hicks into, Pace made it happen.

Pace likely saw those New England sacks as a foreshadowing or a sign that the New Orleans staff had miscast Hicks. The Bears defensive end now is under consideration for NFC defensive player of the week after his 10-tackle performance against San Francisco. Signing with the Bears last March 13 as a free agent was the career break Hicks has craved. For him it was a career lifeline.

“They have given me the ability to go rush the passer,” Hicks said. “So I love this organization – [GM] Ryan Pace, coach Fox, Vic [Fangio, defensive coordinator] – for just giving a guy the capability to put it out there and do what you feel like you can do.”

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Hicks has been showing what he can do, to quarterbacks. For him the best part of win over the 49ers was the two third-quarter sacks of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Those sacks gave the massive lineman, who the Saints said couldn’t rush the passer, 6 sacks for the season – more than any member of the Saints defense this season. It has been a classic instance of putting a player in position to maximize his skills, not jam someone into a bad fit.

“Akiem has been in a couple of different types of packages before with New Orleans and New England,” said coach John Fox. The Patriots switched from a long-time 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 but “we’re more of a New England-type style. But we’re playing him more at end; he played mostly a nose tackle [in New Orleans]. He’s fit really well for us as far as his physical stature.

"But he does have pass rush ability. It shows a little about his athleticism. So he’s got a combination of both.”

That “combination” has been allowed to flourish at a new level, and the Bears’ plan for Hicks was the foundation of why he wanted to sign in Chicago as a free agent. The Bears do not play their defensive linemen in a clear one-gap, get-upfield-fast scheme tailored to speed players. Nor do they play a classic two-gap, linemen-control-blockers scheme typically built on three massive space-eaters on the defensive line.

They play what one player has called a “gap and a half” system, which requires being stout as well as nimble.

One Hicks rush on Kaepernick featured a deft spin move out of a block, not the norm for 336-pound linemen. He got one sack with a quick slide out of a double-team.

“I’m not freelancing,” Hicks said. “But I’m rushing ‘fast.’ There’s a portion of the defense where you have the [run] responsibility and don’t have the freedom or liberty [to rush]. It’s a great system for me and I love what they’ve let me do.”