Rees' pass protection skill an unsung key for Irish offense

Rees' pass protection skill an unsung key for Irish offense
September 20, 2013, 9:15 pm
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — It doesn't directly show up on the stat sheet when Tommy Rees goes up and down Notre Dame's offensive line barking out protections. It's not something that gets him national recognition for being good at.

But Rees' ability to get the offense into the right looks on passing plays has been huge for Notre Dame so far this year.

Rees has been sacked three times in three games, a large part of which is due to the skill up front. His blind side is protected by fifth-year stalwarts in Zack Martin and Chris Watt, while greenhorn center Nick Martin and first-year starter Ronnie Stanley have held their own.

But Rees' experience level, coupled with a career arc that screams "coach," had led the Irish quarterback to rarely be pressured through three games.

"It makes us look good," laughed Zack Martin. "If we can run a play away from a blitz because we know it, it makes us look good."

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Notre Dame players have long trusted in Rees, but along the offensive line that's taken a new form. Rees' eye for picking out defensive disguises and looks is excellent — so good that sometimes, his linemen wonder why he's calling out the check he does.

But, as Martin and Watt put it, it works nearly every time.

"Sometimes he'll check us into a play that we're not thinking is going to work, and then all of a sudden at the snap they'll have people bluff out and guys coming from the side he checked to — so he knows what he's doing there," Martin said. "Whatever he checks, we're confident it'll be the right call."

Rees said his skill in protecting himself comes from watching tons of film on opponents. That's where he'll pick out different tendencies, stuff to key on when a defense bluffs the look in front of him.

But seeing the game from the sidelines last fall has improved his eye, too.

In taking a back seat to Everett Golson, Rees saw the game from a new perspective. And without many first-team reps to take, Rees was able to grow his knowledge base of defensive tendencies.

"You get a different view of what defenses are doing," Rees said. "It's something that's helped me open my mind a little bit more."

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Watt, too, has seen the payoff in Rees' position last year. If Golson had a question about defensive looks, Rees was there to answer it, and that's now helped him this year when he sees those looks.

"Being more in a coach role for a younger quarterback, I think was kind of key for him to maybe see the whole field a little bit more," Watt said. "And taking that over to this year, he's done a great job so far."

Rees has thrown for over 300 yards in all three games this year, and his 323 yards per game is the 13th-highest average among FBS quarterbacks.

And those numbers wouldn't as impressive without his ability to protect himself.