Too much is being made of the suspense surrounding the selection of
the starting quarterback for Notre Dame’s football team.
Don’t look for it to come down to a plume of smoke from the Sistine
Chapel as the Irish are heading overseas for their opener.
It might take a few practices to assert, but, given Irish coach Brian
Kelly’s decision-making history, it’s going to be Andrew Hendrix.
It would take a full-fledged gunslinger; a spit-in-the-wind sort of
fellow; a guy accustomed to shooting from the hip; to turn the keys to
his program over to a loose cannon like Everett Golson. Great athlete.
Not so accomplished when it comes to functioning within the framework
of Kelly’s offense.
That’s not Kelly, circa 2012.
He swaggered onto campus three years ago oozing moxie, backed with the
street cred that comes from a 12-0 record. Gambler. Go-for-broke. Walk
the tightrope without a net.
This buttoned-down Kelly isn’t quite college football’s answer to Rush
Limbaugh just yet, but he is getting conservative from his time under
the microscope that magnifies everything ND.
Touchdown instead of a field goal against Tulsa? How’d that work out?
Yank Dayne Crist during the extended halftime against South Florida?
What dividends did that pay?
A competitive game of Friday night bingo might be the extent of
Kelly’s gambling, at least in the early part of this season.
Hendrix is far and away the best – and safest – answer to what is now
a three-pronged dilemma.
Tommy Rees dropped out of the mix by decision – bad decision. Gunner
Kiel probably falls into the “not quite ready for prime time”
A pre-med major, Hendrix’s primary spring shortcoming, according to
Kelly, was his command of the huddle. Is it easier to learn to play
with confidence, or within a blueprint?
There were times last season – narrow escapes from Wake Forest and
Boston College, in particular – when Kelly could have pulled the plug
on Rees. Give in to external pressure, upset the apple cart, and roll
No knee-jerk for Kelly. Rather than risk an already-fragile team
makeup, he stuck by Rees until the second half of the Stanford loss.
By then, it didn’t matter.
Friday, Kelly tip-toed around the quarterback issue while christening
the season with a champagne address to the media. Bubbly. Plenty of
fizz that’s bound to go flat in the coming weeks.
“Early on, we’ve got to be able to see three quarterbacks,” Kelly said.
Starting Saturday, Notre Dame’s first preseason practice, the clock is
ticking. The time between Navy, Sept. 1, and the following whirlwind
that is the rest of the season, will be sliding downhill. It will
happen in a hurry.
Without a lot of reps to distribute between now and Dublin, a quick
decision is imperative. Last year, Kelly waited until camp broke and
classes started to name Crist his starter. All that work for a tenure
that lasted 30 minutes.
“We have to have a quarterback that we can trust that’s going to take
care of the football and get us in the right place,” Kelly said.
“...It’s developing that trust with our quarterbacks and not accepting
anything less than that level of trust of taking care of the
Trust. Hard to develop when three quarterbacks have combined to
complete 18 of 37 passes for 249 yards and one touchdown, with two
interceptions, in five games last season.
All those numbers are Hendrix’s. Golson and Kiel are waiting for their
baptism under the bright lights.
Kelly won’t be confined by a deadline. Picking a quarterback could
happen next week, or the day the Irish passports are collected.
Adding to the significance of the decision is the meat-grinder of a
schedule. It’s Navy, Purdue, Michigan State and Michigan before a
chance to take a breath.
A change induced by poor play could make that stretch disastrous.
That’s called starting over. White flag time. No room for a do-over.
No place for second-guesses.
Trust is a factor in the ultimate decision. So is a gut feeling.
Tangible and intangible. The edge goes to Hendrix.
Safe - and smart.