FORT WAYNE – Tommy Rees appears set to lead Notre Dame’s offense on Saturday.
Coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday the senior quarterback was cleared to practice after suffering a neck injury in last Saturday’s 14-10 win over USC, and he expects Rees to start when the Irish (5-2) travel to play Air Force (1-6)
We believe that Tommy’s going to be ready, Kelly said. We’re moving forward that he will be the starter. Knowing that it’s Tuesday, we feel a lot more confident that Tommy will be prepared and ready for Saturday.
Rees left the game against USC with 9 minutes to play in the third quarter after being sacked by USC linebacker Lamar Dawson. Kelly said Rees was sore the day after the game, and on Sunday, the coach deemed the situation as day to day.
Senior Andrew Hendrix, who replaced Rees against USC, and freshman Malik Zaire will receive more work in practice this week, Kelly said. But barring a major setback, Rees will start against the Falcons.
The doctors will monitor (Rees) in practice, making sure that he feels comfortable in everything that he’s doing, Kelly said. We won’t overwork him in practice, but we’ll prepare him accordingly. He’ll get the first two or three reps and make sure that he’s functioning properly and then we’ll pull him out. We’ll get Andrew some first team reps and get Malik some second team reps.
As long as Thursday looks good and (Rees) feels great on Thursday, then we move into Saturday without any hesitation.
Kelly is hesitant to use Zaire. The freshman missed the first three games as he recovered from mononucleosis, and the Irish would prefer to retain a season of eligibility after not playing the quarterback in the first seven games.
Hendrix’s performance against the Trojans could also make Kelly hesitant to play him. Hendrix failed to complete any of his four pass attempts against USC, and the Irish only had 25 yards and two first downs with Rees out.
Rees has thrown for 1,660 yards with 15 touchdowns and six interceptions. Hendrix has thrown for 9 yards and ran for 17 yards in limited duty in six games.
Hopefully, (Hendrix will) 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, Kelly said. I think there’s better days for Andrew Hendrix. I think he’s going to play better. I think he expects to play better and I expect him to play better.
Notre Dame is also dealing with a pair of injuries on its defense. Kelly said safety Elijah Shumate, who didn’t play against USC because of a hamstring injury, is questionable to play against Air Force.
Kelly also said nose guard Louis Nix III hurt his shoulder against USC, but he expects the senior to be able to play Saturday.
He’s sore, Kelly said. We’re going to be careful with him. We need Big Lou.