NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Brian Kelly expects Tommy Rees to be able to play this weekend. Rees was knocked out of Saturday night's win over USC after suffering a neck strain, but Kelly said on Tuesday that the senior quarterback has been cleared to practice.
"He was cleared today," said Kelly, "When you're cleared on Tuesday, your first day of practice (of the week), I don't think there's any hesitancy to go out and play somebody when he's cleared so early in the week, so he's been cleared by a medical team to practice today."
Kelly says if it had taken until Wednesday or Thursday for Rees to be cleared medically his status would be more up in the air for Saturday's game at Air Force. Barring a setback this week Rees will start and he is listed ahead of Andrew Hendrix at No. 1 on this week's two-deep depth chart at quarterback.
"The doctors will monitor him in practice making sure that he's comfortable in everything that he's doing," Kelly said of Rees. "We won't overwork him in practice, but we'll prepare him accordingly."
"Let's just say we have a 6-4 or 5-3 rep breakdown," Kelly continued. "He'll get the first two or three reps and then make sure that he's functioning properly and then we'll pull him out and we'll get Andrew some first team reps and we'll get Malik some second team reps."
As long as Rees looks good after Thursday's practice (the last of the week), Rees would be a go for Saturday as far is Kelly is concerned "without any hesitation".
Even with Rees as the starter, Hendrix is just one fluke play away from being back in action this Saturday and any other game the rest of the season. Kelly expressed his frustration with Hendrix's play over the weekend and says the senior has to find a way to carryover his "good" practice play into games when he is called upon.
"What Andrew has to do is take that practice now and he's gotta take that into games," said Kelly. "Hopefully, he'll use the experience that he had against USC and he'll take that as a learning experience and translate what he does in practice now into games."
"He knows what it looks like. Now it's incumbent upon him as a competitor, and he's a competitor. He wants to succeed. Now he's going to have to take what he does in practice and he's going to have to carry that into games."
The only possession in which Hendrix played in the second half that did not end in a punt or turnover was the final drive that saw him take a knee twice to run out the final 54 seconds of the game. He was 0-for-4 passing and simply looked at times like a deer in the headlights of the Southern Cal defense. Kelly says the "sample size" is too small right now to make the blanket statement that Hendrix cannot make his solid practice play translate into game success.
"I think he's a better player than what he showed against USC," Kelly said. "I think he's gotta calm his emotions down. I think he's capable of much more. I have much more confidence in his ability to come in and play better football and I expect he will."
Speaking of Quarterbacks
The depth chart at quarterback is drastically different right now that it obviously would be if last year's starter, Everett Golson, was on the team. Golson is paying his penance this semester for the academic issues that got him suspended for the fall semester, but Kelly remains in contact with him.
"He's in contact weekly," Kelly said of Golson. "Either with myself or with (offensive coordinator) coach (Chuck) Martin. He's in contact with our graduate assistant coach (Pat) Welch two or three times a week. Just catching up on what we're doing (such as) game plans (and) staying connected."
Golson remains on the west coast working with quarterbacks coach George Whitfield in what Kelly says is a "structured environment".
More Injury Updates
Elijah Shumate missed Saturday's game after injuring his hamstring in practice last Thursday. Kelly says standard protocol for a hamstring is a 10-14 day recovery period and he says Shumate is "questionable", but not out of Saturday's game.
"We ran him on the treadmill yesterday (Monday) without pain," said Kelly. "(He is) pain-free. He's ahead of schedule. I'm not ready to declare him ready to play Saturday. He will go through drill work today and I'll have more on him later in the week."
Louis Nix had a shoulder tweak during Saturday's game, but he managed to play through it.
"He's a great player and he was battling every play," Kelly said of Nix. "We showed some clips to the officials where we thought he was targeted on some plays that we weren't happy with. He's a little sore right now. We're going to be careful with him this week."
Kelly says facing the option offenses the Irish will face over the next two weeks is not Nix's "cup of tea" due to the high amount of cut blocking he is likely to see against much smaller Air Force and Navy offensive linemen.
"For a big guy that's not the kind of game you'd like to play," said Kelly. "You'd like to get your hands on somebody and really physically try to get your strength."
Cornerback Bennett Jackson dinged his shoulder a little big on Saturday as well, but Kelly says it is nothing serious.
"It's a surgically repaired shoulder," said Kelly. "He's going to have some soreness in that joint probably. (It) got overextended on a tackle. Anytime you get overextension with that shoulder you worry about subluxation. We didn't have any of that. He's a tough kid."
Sheldon Day was back in action against USC after missing three straight games with an ankle injury. He had two tackles, including one for loss, against the Trojans. Kelly expects Day to be at full strength again this weekend.
Back-to-Back Option Attacks
As fate would have it, Notre Dame plays Air Force and Navy, both option teams, in back-to-back weeks this season. Kelly played no part in making that happen.
"You can ask me how the Democrats and Republicans work together more so than putting the schedule together," Kelly joked. "I don't know how they put the schedule together. It's just a complicated thing of moving games with the ACC and trying to get alliances that have been out there with different contracts and sometimes it just falls that way."
Kelly says seeing the two similar offensive styles in consecutive weeks is a "coincidence", albeit a good coincidence none the less.
Since falling to Navy 35-17 in his first crack at a service academy in 2010, Kelly's teams have been downright dominant against the option attacks of Army, Navy and Air Force. Notre Dame is 4-0 since that loss and has won by a combined score of 192-60 despite the unique challenge the option offense brings.
"It really slows you down and forces you to play assignment football and takes away sometimes the skill advantage that you have," said Kelly. "That size advantage becomes minimized in some instances, because you have to play so disciplined and play assignment football."