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Overlooked Notre Dame QB Tommy Rees gets chance to impress Bears

Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees throws pass during Notre Dame football pro day Thursday March 20 2014 South Bend Ind.

Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees throws a pass during Notre Dame football pro day, Thursday March 20, 2014, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Joe Raymond) ORG XMIT: INJR106

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Updated: April 17, 2014 12:17AM



The Bears’ Halas Hall isn’t a foreign or intimidating place to Tommy Rees. The Notre Dame quarterback has roamed its grounds before.

Rees, who played at nearby Lake Forest High, was there “a bunch” when his father, Bill, worked for the team in the late in 1990’s. And Rees said he stopped in during high school.

Yet, Friday’s visit will be different.

Very different.

“It’s a little weird being from right there,” Rees said. “But I just look at it as a great opportunity.”

It’s an opportunity during the Bears’ local pro day to prove he has some NFL value, while impressing a team looking at quarterbacks to stack behind Jay Cutler.

The Bears aren’t opposed to developing a young quarterback. Matt Blanchard, a Lake Zurich graduate who starred at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, managed to impress coach Marc Trestman before an injury led to his departure last year.

“The way coach Trestman is, everything I’ve seen and heard is that he’s great with quarterbacks and you saw that last year,” Rees said. “It’s exciting for me to go out there and compete and work out with guys I don’t know too well. Just getting the opportunity to work with coaches like coach Trestman will be really cool to be around.”

Rees doesn’t rate among the best quarterbacks in this year’s draft. He played in the East-West Shrine Game, but wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, while less productive quarterbacks from less-storied programs were.

Even Rees sounds OK with the possibility of going undrafted, saying “the only thing I’m really asking for is an opportunity to get into camp.”

But Rees’ confidence hasn’t waned.

“I feel like I can play at the next level,” Rees said, “and that I can do things and I have qualities that people are looking for.”

Rees might have some momentum going for him. He completed 32 of 34 passes during Notre Dame’s pro day last month and has worked out for some teams since then.

“I had a lot of positive feedback from that [pro day],” Rees said. “I think I threw the ball better than people maybe would have expected.”

Rees always seems to have his doubters. He wasn’t a prized recruit like other quarterbacks were during his run at Notre Dame, although he managed to outperform them. He’s been booed and cheered by his own fans in the same game.

“Over a four-year period of time, not everything is going to go the way you planned,” Rees said. “But for me, I cherish those moments in the locker room and some of the big wins I was able to be a part of.”

Rees may not have the prototypical NFL size or possess game-changing speed, but he has some intangibles – moxie, intelligence, a blue-collar work ethic and leadership skills, his teammates say – that quarterback gurus like Trestman may appreciate.

“People underestimate [Rees],” said Notre Dame guard Chris Watt, who also will work out for the Bears. “He’s been thrown against the wall a few times. Fans may not have always loved him, but he kind of threw that all out the window once he got on the field. He was able to push away all the stress.

“He’s a great leader and a person you want in your huddle.”

Last season, Rees threw for 3,257 yards and 27 touchdowns (both the fourth-most in single-season school history) in 13 starts capped by a victory in the Pinstripe Bowl. They were the best numbers of a complicated career that saw him start 31 games over four years and finish third in passing yards (7,670) and second in touchdown passes (61).

But it was his ability to do so after taking a backseat to Everett Golson in 2012 that’s significant.

“You learn a lot more about yourself,” Rees said of backing up Golson after starting games the previous two seasons. “I learned a lot about discipline and putting the team first and that’s what I did.

“I learned how to be the guy everyone turned to.”

Now, he’s hoping to convince an NFL team to turn him, regardless of the role.

“Everyone has their opinions of a Notre Dame quarterback, but very few people really know what goes into it,” Rees said. “I felt like I gave everything I had to the program and my teammates.

“I don’t think I’m going to play in a spread option [in the NFL]. But I think I can go out there and play and move the ball and move the offense in almost any system.”

Email: ajahns@suntimes.com

Twitter: @adamjahns



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