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ND Coach Kelly keeping Rees at QB for stability

December 18, 2011
The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly decided to keep Tommy Rees as the starter at quarterback based on his body of work over the past season and a half, as well as his ability to work with wide receiver Michael Floyd and tight end Tyler Eifert.

Freshman Andrew Hendrix has been occasionally spelling Rees, who has started the last 11 games and 15 of 16. Hendrix played the entire second half of the loss to Stanford, but will remain on the bench for now, as the Fighting Irish prepare for the Champs Sports Bowl against Florida State.

"In making our decision we felt like Tommy has got a great rapport with Mike and Tyler and our offensive line feels really good with his communication and getting in protections," Kelly said. "There's a lot of things that you can't just undo after one game."

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Rees finished the Stanford game completing only six of 13 passes for 60 yards. Rees threw one interception and Stanford defenders dropped other would-be picks.

Kelly said his confidence in inserting Hendrix in the lineup has increased. Throughout the season, Kelly has strategically brought Hendrix into games when Notre Dame was leading and in a comfortable situation.

But he's keeping Rees as the nominal starter.

"I didn't want any debate within our program. I wanted our guys to know, 'Here's your starter. Here's where we're going.'" Kelly said. "I think you also know that Andrew Hendrix can do some things that can help our football team," Kelly said. "We need to see him as well. Tommy's going to start and then expect to see Andrew as well."

Hendrix finished the Stanford game completing 11 of 24 passes for 192 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. Hendrix also rushed for 20 yards and a score on 12 carries.

One change that Kelly has decided to try is moving Theo Riddick from wide receiver to running back. Riddick, a junior, started his career at Notre Dame in the backfield but was moved into the slot as a sophomore with the emergence of running backs Jonas Gray and Cierre Wood.

With Gray's season coming to an end with a knee injury suffered against Boston College and Riddick returning to the field after missing time with a hamstring injury, Kelly decided to make the change. Kelly said the move could possibility last into next season.

"Now that Jonas is out of the mix through injury and then graduation, now there's some room at the top for a guy like Theo Riddick at the running back position," Kelly said. "I don't know that I'd put my hand down and say 'No, we're never going to move him again,' but he looks comfortable at running back right now."

With wide receivers TJ Jones, Robby Toma and John Goodman proving serviceable in Riddick's absence, Kelly said the decision was easier to make.

"For a one-game season, we're in fine shape there," Kelly said.

Kelly said Riddick has embraced the move to running back, even asking Kelly to spend some individual time with him going over film and running back assignments.

"He's eager," Kelly said. "He's excited. He's energized about being where he is."

With Notre Dame (8-4) preparing for the bowl game against an 8-4 Florida State team, Kelly said the goal is to win the game while focusing on the future. Kelly has said he will dedicate a lot of the 15 practices to developing players that will be needed next year.

"I think it starts with winning the game, getting to nine wins, sending our seniors off with a W, but I think it's one of those things where you're living in the now, but you've got to have an eye towards the future," Kelly said. "I don't want to be all about the future. I want both. And that's how we've operated all year."