Zaire not an option as Notre Dame moves on with Rees

Zaire not an option as Notre Dame moves on with Rees
September 29, 2013, 3:00 pm
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JJ Stankevitz

There's not a quick fix on Notre Dame's roster for the team's lagging quarterback play over the last two games.

"There's no question, the quarterback that's going to start for us is Tommy Rees," coach Brian Kelly said Sunday.

For the growing hoard of fans clamoring for promising freshman Malik Zaire, that should answer the question.

It's a natural response to clamor for a backup when the starter struggles -- Rees has completed just 23 of his last 58 passes for 246 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. When there's a high-ceiling player on the roster who does something different than the starter, those calls gain steam.

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But Kelly has no plans to use Zaire, unless something goes awry over the next seven games.

"Unless we have an injury, you're not going to see Malik unless we get into an injury situation," Kelly said. "We only have the three quarterbacks, so we have to keep him ready to go. But I'd prefer not to play him unless we have a medical situation."

That means unless Rees or Andrew Hendrix get hurt, don't expect to see Zaire take the field for Notre Dame this fall. It's worth noting Notre Dame's talking about a medical redshirt for Zaire, who didn't dress for Notre Dame's first three games while dealing with mononucleosis.

If Zaire wasn't ready to play before he came down with mono, the illness -- which, as anyone who's had mono can attest, saps one's strength -- was probably the last straw for any hopes he'll play in 2013.

The focus for Notre Dame isn't on finding a replacement for Rees, it's putting him in a better position to succeed. Hendrix saw meaningful snaps for the first time this season against Oklahoma, and Notre Dame appears set to move forward with him as a change-of-pace guy, someone who could spark a running attack with some read-option looks.

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But Kelly got what he wanted against Oklahoma from the Irish running game, which succeeded on the ground and opened up some play-action looks for Rees. It wasn't enough, though, as Rees struggled with accuracy and Irish receivers didn't run quality routes.

"We did not do a very good job of helping him out yesterday," Kelly said. "Some of the routes, the one ball he threw to T.J. (the second interception) needed to be abetter throw certainly, but there were a number of instances where he wasn't protected as well as he needed to be, or the routes were not run as well."

There's not a game-ready, game-changing quarterback walking through that door for Notre Dame -- that guy's working out in San Diego -- so for the rest of the season, Rees is what Kelly and the Irish have to work with.

The Irish offense will either see growth or stagnation, but either way, it'll come with Rees at the helm.