Tommy Rees

Report: Former Notre Dame QB Tommy Rees will join Northwestern as GA

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After a short-lived pursuit to become an NFL quarterback, former Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees will follow in his father’s footsteps by pursuing a coaching career.

According to SI.com’s Brian Hamilton, Rees will join the Northwestern Wildcats’ coaching staff as a graduate assistant.

During his four seasons with the Fighting Irish, Rees threw for 7,351 yards, 61 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. The quarterback left campus with 33 passing records.

Rees was never seen as a permanent solution behind center for Notre Dame, though. He was a smart and efficient player, but there was always a more talented recruit waiting in the wings. However, his aptitude for the game was never questioned. Rees’ ability to read defenses and understanding of the X’s and O’s should translate well for the aspiring coach.

Rees’ father, Bill, also started a career in coaching and scouting at Northwestern before spending 15 years at UCLA then moving to the NFL to work for the Kansas City Chiefs, Chicago Bears, San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns.

Bill Rees eventually returned to Northwestern in 2010 before leaving for the NFL a year later to resume his scouting career.

Gunner Kiel embracing starting QB role at Cincinnati

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As some expected to be the case, Gunner Kiel is embracing life as starting quarterback for the upcoming 2014 season at Cincinnati. Kiel will replace Munchie Legaux under center, although Legaux will be the team’s top back-up. For Kiel, the chance to finally be the starting quarterback is not something that will be taken lightly.

“The first few days were a little shaky,” Kiel said to the Associated Press. “I think I came out anxious and excited. I think that got me to play a little uncomfortable. So at times I have to calm down and relax and play the game I love, not do too much. I know I’m going to make mistakes, but learn from the mistakes.”

Kiel sat out the 2013 season after transferring from Notre Dame to Cincinnati. Kiel likely would have had a chance to start for Notre Dame last season had he stayed, with Everett Golson being dismissed for academic reasons. Tommy Rees was Notre Dame’s starter and Kiel had already made the decision to leave for Cincinnati, and he stuck with it. Last week we named Kiel one of the top key transfers for the upcoming season.

Kiel will also be in charge of leading a team many expect to win the American Athletic Conference, and perhaps play into the big revenue bowl conversation along the way. The highest-ranked conference champion from the AAC, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West Conference or Sun Belt will be guaranteed a spot in one of the College Football Playoff bowls (the Orange Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Peach Bowl or Cotton Bowl this season). Cincinnati has been voted the preseason favorite in the AAC through a media poll, but ranking high enough in the eyes of the selection committee will be a challenge. Cincinnati has road games at Ohio State and Miami this season.

Legaux was awarded an extra season of eligibility by the NCAA after seeing his 2013 season end quickly with a knee injury. Legaux continues to get back to 100 percent, but is reportedly ready to embrace his role as the team’s back-up. Cincinnati may find some ways to get him involved on offense if he is healthy.

CFT Top 25: No. 15 Notre Dame

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2013 record: 9-4
2013 postseason: Pinstripe Bowl vs. Rutgers (29-16 win)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 20/No. 24
Head coach: Brian Kelly (90-37 overall; 37-15 in four years at Notre Dame)
Offensive coordinator: Mike Denbrock (first season as OC; 5th year under Kelly at Notre Dame)
2013 offensive rankings: 81st rushing offense (150.92 YPG); 39th passing offense (254.8 YPG); 68th total offense (405.8 YPG); 74th scoring offense (27.2 PPG)
Returning offensive starters: RB Cam McDaniel, WR DaVaris Daniels, OL Ronnie Stanley, OL Nick Martin, OL Christian Lombard
Defensive coordinator: Brian VanGorder (first season at Notre Dame)
2013 defensive rankings: 71st rushing defense (168 YPG); 15th passing defense (198.2 YPG); 31st total defense (366.2 YPG); 27th scoring defense (22.4 PPG)
Returning defensive starters: DT Sheldon Day, LB Jaylon Smith, CB KeiVarae Russell, S Austin Collinsworth
Location: South Bend, Ind.
Stadium: Notre Dame Stadium (80,795, FieldTurf)

THE GOOD
Notre Dame’s offense should be much improved with Everett Golson at the helm — he’s the playmaking quarterback Brian Kelly has wanted ever since coming to South Bend from Cincinnati. In 2012, Golson “rode the bus” to the BCS Championship, as Kelly put it, running a relatively basic offense. And in 2011 and 2013, Tommy Rees quarterbacked the Irish to eight and nine — not where Notre Dame wanted to be in either year.

In Year 2 of Golson, even with his 2013 exile from campus, Notre Dame finally looks to have the kind of offense that can win the team big games. Golson has loads of talent around him, from sophomore running backs Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant to wide receivers DaVaris Daniels, Chris Brown and Corey Robinson to tight end Durham Smythe — remember that last name going forward. The offensive line looks solid, too, and there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot holding back the Irish offense outside of a little inexperience heading into the fall.

Notre Dame has a number of stars on defense, too: Linebacker Jaylon Smith is the best player on the team, while defensive tackle Sheldon Day looks primed for a breakout season if he can stay healthy. The Irish secondary is stout, led by junior cornerback KeiVarae Russell, sophomore safety Max Redfield and graduate student/Florida transfer Cody Riggs. It’s a deep unit, too, and one that should play well in Brian VanGorder’s aggressive defensive scheme.

THE BAD
I mean, have you seen Notre Dame’s schedule? Road games at Florida State, Arizona State and USC — all of which come in the second half of the season — are tough as it is, but throw in home games against Michigan, Stanford, North Carolina and Louisville and the Irish have an awfully difficult minefield to navigate this fall.

There’s a chance Notre Dame actually is a better team than it was last year — the Irish finished 26th in F/+ — but wind up with the same 9-4 record…or worse. The toughest stretch comes in early to mid October, when Notre Dame faces Stanford and UNC at home on back-to-back weekends before traveling to Florida State.

Stanford and Florida State certainly are tough, but that North Carolina game has all the makings of a dangerous trap game for the Irish. UNC has a good enough offense to give the Irish defense fits, and if Notre Dame goes into Oct. 11 looking ahead to Florida State the Tarheels could be primed for an upset.

THE UNKNOWN
Notre Dame lost five starters off its front seven from a year ago: Louis Nix, Stephon Tuitt, Prince Shembo, Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox. Sliding in for those guys is a group of inexperienced players who potentially could be good…but also who could potentially struggle to stop a number of the high-powered offenses Notre Dame has to face.

Guys like defensive tackle Jarron Jones and linebacker Joe Schmidt performed well in limited duty a year ago, but will they be able to succeed in larger roles? Can a converted safety (John Turner) and a converted wide receiver (James Onwualu) play Sam linebacker? Will freshmen defensive linemen Daniel Cage, Pete Mokwuah, Jonathan Bonner and Andrew Trumbetti be ready enough to provide much-needed depth up front?

The X-Factor with Notre Dame’s defense is how the unit performs running a defense that’ll take more chances under VanGorder than it did under Bob Diaco. The last few years of stats don’t really apply to Notre Dame’s defensive outlook this fall, given there’s a greater emphasis on forcing turnovers and sacks rather than two-gapping and preventing big plays. We won’t know how this defense really shakes out until it actually takes the field this fall under VanGorder, so that makes it very much an unknown.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: Nov. 29 at USC
Hypothetically, if Notre Dame heads to Los Angeles with one loss (likely to Florida State), a win over USC and an 11-1 season could be enough to get the Irish into the four-team playoff.

That’s the best-case scenario for Notre Dame. But there are plenty of other hypotheticals that involve Notre Dame either salvaging a disappointing season (say, a 7-5/8-4 year) or generating some early hype for 2015 (say, a 10-win year) that involve beating USC. That it’s a rivalry game doesn’t hurt, either.

There are plenty of other games that could’ve fit here: Michigan, Stanford, Florida State and Arizona State. But given it’s the final game of the season and Notre Dame-USC always carries weight, it gets a make-or-break designation.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: Quarterback Everett Golson
Six hundred days will have passed since Golson last played in a competitive game when he takes the field for Notre Dame Aug. 30 against Rice. But that long layoff hasn’t prevented Golson from seeing his name pop up as a Heisman dark horse, and the latest Bovada odds have him at 20/1 to win the trophy.

Golson threw for 2,405 yards with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions in 2012, but expect those numbers — as well as his rushing totals — to go up this fall. It’ll take a big leap for Golson to legitimately get in the Heisman competition, but if Notre Dame has a better season than most are expecting Golson very well could find himself in the discussion.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

JJ Stankevitz is CSNChicago.com’s Notre Dame Insider. Follow him on Twitter @JJStankevitz.

Kelly: Golson won’t be handed Irish starting job

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Upon hearing the news that Everett Golson had been reinstated to Notre Dame last month, it was assumed — a very safe assumption — that the quarterback would slide seamlessly back into his role as the Irish’s starter at the position.

While that will very likely be the case when the Irish take the field for their 2014 opener Aug. 30 against Rice, Golson’s head coach, at least with his public words, will make the junior earn that job back.

Speaking to the media Friday, Brian Kelly warned those assembled against anointing Golson as the starter, going out of his way to praise freshman Malik Zaire as a player who could change the predetermined storylines.

“I just want to caution everybody that we have I think a very good quarterback in Malik Zaire,” Kelly said. “I’m not ready to hand everything over to Everett. I love Everett, he played in the national championship game, but I’m also somebody that wants to make sure the quarterback position is such that we give everybody an opportunity to compete for that position.”

Zaire, a four-star member of the Irish’s 2013 recruiting class, did not see any action as a true freshman last season.  On the other hand…

Golson, in his first season as the Irish’s No. 1 quarterback in 2012, started 11 of the 12 games in which he played in leading Notre Dame to its first unbeaten regular season in more than two decades and a spot in the BCS title game.  With Tommy Rees taking over under center this past season due to Golson’s banishment, the Irish are 8-4.

In late May of last year, Golson was suspended from the university for what was described as an academic violation.  Speculation subsequently surfaced that cheating was involved, with Golson confirming the rumors by acknowledging he had cheated on a final exam.

Golson’s battle to reclaim his starting job will begin in earnest during spring practice.  As the Chicago Tribune writes, however, “it would be quite the upset if Zaire were to overtake Golson on the depth chart.”

Notre Dame officially introduces new QB coach

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Matt LaFleur, formerly of the Washington Redskins, has been named the new quarterbacks coach at Notre Dame. Head coach Brian Kelly and the Irish announced the new addition to the coaching staff Friday, although it had been speculated earlier in the week the hire was imminent.

LaFleur returns to the college game after four years with the Redskins, where he coached former Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III as well as former Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins for their first two years in the league with various results. He is a former Kelly assistant at Central Michigan, where he served as an offensive assistant for two seasons before embarking on a different path that would eventually lead to the NFL.

“Matt has a proven resume of developing quarterbacks at numerous levels of football, none more evident than his outstanding work with the Washington Redskins,” said Kelly. “He was a major factor in the success not only of two rookies, Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins, but was also crucial in the resurgence of Rex Grossman’s career, who in 2010 under LaFleur established numerous career bests.”

LaFleur will be charged with developing Everett Golson, who will return to the Irish in 2014 after sitting out a season due to academic probation. Golson led the Irish to an undefeated regular season in 2012 that resulted in a berth in the BCS Championship Game. While that 2012 team may have been fueled by a strong defensive effort, Golson brought a certain level of versatility to the offense that had been lacking. In 2012, Golson completed 58.8 percent of his passes for 2,405 yards and 12 touchdowns with six interceptions. He also rushed for 298 yards and six touchdowns. If LaFleur can get Golson to show more accuracy with his pass selections, the Irish should have a fairly viable offense.

Notre Dame ranked 39th in the country last season in passing offense, with Tommy Rees taking on the starting role. The Irish completed just 52.7 percent of their passes (107th in the nation) for 3,313 yards and 27 touchdowns (13 interceptions).