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Dayne Crist, Tommy Rees give Notre Dame a win-win choice at QB

Dayne Crist (above) Tommy Rees are locked friendly battle for starting quarterback job.  |  AP

Dayne Crist (above) and Tommy Rees are locked in a friendly battle for the starting quarterback job. | AP

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Updated: November 2, 2011 7:34PM



SOUTH BEND, Ind. — There’s a surprising lack of angst surrounding who will be named Notre Dame’s starting quarterback, which says a lot about the competition between senior Dayne Crist and sophomore Tommy Rees.

The Irish offense should be in capable hands regardless of who takes the first snap against South Florida on Sept. 3.

‘‘It’s going to be the slightest of margins when we make this decision,’’ Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. ‘‘I can tell you right now I’m confident that either one of them will lead our team in the manner we need them to be led. It’s that close.’’

It was no surprise that the quarterback competition was the theme of media day Tuesday, even if both players proved capable last season and both have made significant strides during the offseason and training camp. While the competition remains tight, Kelly expects to make his decision 10 days before the season opener, allowing the starter more time to prepare for the Bulls.

Now that Crist and Rees are getting the majority of the reps, Kelly said the player who is best able to master the offense while limiting turnovers will win the job.

‘‘There are so many different things we can do within our offense that the quarterback has to be efficient in all the areas,’’ Kelly said. ‘‘That is getting us in the right play, checking to the right protection, making sure the right people get their hands on the football. It’s more than just arm strength, more than just leadership capabilities. There are so many other factors involved within the structure of our offense that the quarterback must excel at.

‘‘There’s also now an added dimension in that we feel very confident about the kind of defense we can play, that taking care of the football now is a premium.’’

The bigger Crist has a stronger arm and more experience, while Rees has a quicker release and is generally more accurate. The flexibility inherent in Kelly’s system, however, should allow either quarterback to succeed.

‘‘For the most part, if you talk to Dayne and I, we don’t get caught up with one play,’’ said Rees, the Lake Forest product who led the Irish to four straight wins to end last season, including a lopsided victory over Miami in the Sun Bowl. ‘‘We’re trying to string good plays together and not worry about one play costing us our job.’’

Regardless of who starts, both said they are more at ease with the offense in Kelly’s second season.

‘‘It’s a much more comfortable situation than it was a year ago,’’ said Crist, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last year. ‘‘You’ll see it most in execution. Guys are playing with much more confidence, and they’re playing faster.’’

While Crist was the clear-cut starter at this time last year, Kelly said Rees’ emergence shouldn’t reflect negatively on Crist.

‘‘Your first inclination is that Dayne has slipped,’’ Kelly said. ‘‘He has not. He’s much better. He’s a much better football player than he was at this time last year in all aspects: demeanor, focus, buying into Brian Kelly’s system vis-à-vis other systems that he has had taught to him. All those things have made him a better football player and a better quarterback.

‘‘But Tommy Rees came in as a blank slate. He didn’t have any other systems that we had to flush out. So Tommy has really hit the ground running, and that’s why it has made it such a great competition. We’ve got two quarterbacks that have gotten better from last year more so than anybody slipping a peg or two.’’

NOTE: Kickoff for Notre Dame’s Sept. 24 game at Pittsburgh has been scheduled for 11 a.m.



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