Tommy Rees cannot be the starting quarterback this season because we’re still “talking about this stuff.” He has not made the strides he needed to in order to establish himself as the Number One. Because questions remain, we need to move on from Tommy, as sad and painful as that might be. Remember, they had to shoot Old Yeller, too.
On a gut level, I really, really, really wanted Tommy to work out. Tommy was, to my eye, the honey badger before Tyrann Mathieu burst on the scene. Tommy threw an interception? Tommy don’t care. Tommy got sacked? Look at him! He’s nasty. He doesn’t give a fu**! Tommy’ll lead us down the field! That’s what I thought, mostly to myself, but sometimes out loud. Tommy had a way about him that, I thought, suggested greater things to come. He was unflappable. He couldn’t be flapped.
But, as 2011 wore on, Tommy began to wear on me. I began to wonder whether or not the honey badger himself could read a defense better than Tommy. Parenthetically, I was not debating whether Tyrann Mathieu could read a defense better than Tommy Rees could, that much was certain. Rather, I was actually questioning whether a real honey badger could read a defense better than Tommy. As I watched such tour de force displays as the Pitt game, Wake Forest and, of couse, the Champs Sports Bowl, I watched a young man who was either closing his eyes and hucking it or a young man who was never quite able to fully comprehend that his guys were wearing the same color shirt he was. Maybe names on the uniforms would have been of some help, but I think the FSU game showed us that names don’t matter. Maybe if they were on the front.
In the credit where credit is due department, though, Tommy Rees, Michael Floyd and Tyler Eifert were one heck of a threesome at times. Sometimes because Tommy threw a perfect pass, e.g. Tommy to Michael in the corner of the end zone against Wake Forest game or Tommy to Tyler seventy-seven times during the final four minutes of the fourth quarter of the Pitt game. Sometimes, because Michael or Tyler made a play that only they could make. All that aside, I do not want my â€œanti-Tommy Rees’ position to be construed in any way that I think he’s worthless or a bad guy or that there’s anything personal at all. Fact of the matter is that he was the starting QB at Notre Dame and that counts for something. He’s a student at Notre Dame. I am a forty year old. I don’t think grown men should call young men’s character into question over football. Les Miles, I am talking to you.
I just think we need to do better this year.
Early in the 2011 season, on the eve of the Purdue game, Coach Kelly gave an interview to the Chicago Tribune. Commenting on Tommy’s performance in the Pitt game the week before, Coach said “you can put together an incredible highlight reel with Tommy Rees this year. And you could also put together a blooper film. So it’s really being able to gain that consistency of play after play after play. And a lot of that is learning and experience, and that’s where we’re at. That’s this year. We better not be talking about this stuff next year or there will be another quarterback playing.”
Flash forward to pre-season 2012 and Coach is back in the Trib speaking about our new OC, Chuck Martin, saying that Martin “…knows what [Coach Kelly] is looking for in an offense he conceded has not met expectations thus far.” Here we are, talking about Tommy.
Here we are, two practices into the spring and we’re talking about Tommy’s consistency and his big play ability. In this man’s opinion, Tommy had his Eight Mile “one shot” and instead of “owning it”, he ended up with his mom’s spaghetti” all down the front of his grey hoodie and white t-shirt. If great quarterbacks are like great lead singers, what’s Tommy going to do now that his Bobby Brown, his Jonny Marr, has left the band? In my opinion, a Tommy Rees-led offense in 2012 will be more like New Edition from 1985 to 1988 (what we all remember as the Wilderness Years, the years before Johnny Gill) than like Morrissey’s triumphant 1988 release of Viva Hate.
The inescapable truth about Tommy is that while his percentage of interceptions as a total of his throws went down in 2011, the number of interceptions went up. TO FOURTEEN! And that’s just interceptions! We haven’t even gotten to his unparalleled ability to fumble the ball. To drill down to a positively-trending metric gives false support because you have to ignore the only thing that really matters: winning. If you were to ask Charlie Sheen if Tommy Rees is “weak” or “winning!” I am confident that the Sir Lawrence Olivier of our time would respond with an equally confident, “weak”.
Grantland-X makes a good point about the importance of consistency, on a program-level. That being said, Tommy has been consistently inconsistent from 2010 through 2011. I don’t think Tommy deserves to start based on his past record and I don’t think Tommy deserves to start simply because he started last year. Remember Dayne Crist?
I don’t mean to throw Dayne under the bus. I loved him. All the talent in the world, a heckuva great guy off the field, and pretty damn good looking. Right? I mean, we can admit that? Can’t we? But he treated footballs on the two yard line like they were acid-covered porcupines. He was Fredo to Coach Kelly’s Michael Corleone. “I know it was you, Dayne. You broke my heart. You broke my heart!” Dayne was insanely more gifted than Tommy, but Dayne collapsed in critical moments and he lost the job.
Tommy’s more experienced than Hendrix or Golson. No doubt. But that experience is cold comfort to me, for he didn’t get better as the 2011 season went on. In fact, on a lot of levels, he got worse, or, almost as importantly, he seemed to get worse. And as one of the least appealing physical specimens on the planet, I am a huge proponent of never judging a book by its cover. But, in the case of a starting QB, perception matters. I mean, weren’t you stunned by the end of the Pitt game last year? Did you not leave the game or turn off the set and say “where’d that kid come from?” or “where was THAT Tommy Rees all game?” Honestly. If you didn’t, you didn’t watch the game. He was brilliant (and so was Eifert) for the last drive. But he was SO BAD the other two hundred and forty-seven minutes. And was he any good against FSU?
Now, other than statistics, wins, losses, and Coach Kelly’s own words, I haven’t offered a lot of examples of why I am right and why Grantland-X is wrong. So, let me get to one: Kevin McDougal. Before leading us to a Number One ranking in 1993 and leading us back against Boston College the next week only to have Pete Bercich drop that interception (“You broke my heart. You broke my heart!”), Kevin threw a total of 21 passes, completing 14, in the previous three seasons. As a starter, though, Kevin was pretty darned good. Just watch:
I don’t want to hear about the talent that Kevin had around him. Do you really think that Aaron Taylor, Oscar McBride, Lake Dawson, Derrick Mayes, Ray Zellers and Lee Becton made Kevin that much better? Don’t answer that question. Do you really think that a defense with Jeff Burris, Bobby Taylor, Greg Lane, Jim Flanigan, John Covington and Bryant Young helped much? Not that much. Fact is, Kevin took over from a relatively talented, consistent starter (who just happened to be the Number Two overall pick in the 1993 NFL Draft) and ran a consistent, productive offense. Are you telling me that any of those guys I just named are better than Te’o, Shembo, Lynch, Nix III, Floyd or Eifert? They might be, I don’t know. But the point is that Kevin was a steady hand on the rudder. Tommy Rees has been Captain Shakey.
Hendrix and Golson bring a Kelly-friendly QB to the offense and a multi-dimensional threat that opposing defenses MUST take into account. Did anyone ever worry that Tommy would tuck and run? Let me rephrase that: did anyone not rooting for the Irish to win ever worry that Tommy would tuck and run?
To sum up, at long last, Tommy had his chance(s). He won us some games and he’s good guy. I just don’t think he’s our present or our future. We need consistency at the quarterback position, especially now that we’ve lost Michael Floyd. Let’s start that consistency today: with Hendrix and Golson.