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Notre Dame Football

Marcus Freeman, Tommy Rees assess Notre Dame QB battle

April 9, 2022
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Quarterbacks, not surprisingly, remained a primary topic Saturday as Notre Dame wrapped up the 11th of its 15 spring practice dates.

The Fighting Irish, scheduled to finish Marcus Freeman’s first-ever spring camp in two weeks with the annual Blue & Gold Game, conducted what was revealed as an 104-play “jersey scrimmage” Saturday morning into early afternoon inside the Irish Athletics Center.

Though Notre Dame still hasn’t named a starter in its battle that has pitted sophomore Tyler Buchner against redshirt-sophomore Drew Pyne, Freeman proclaimed his belief in both signal-callers.

“Really, really pleased today,” Freeman said. “The only way to win the jersey scrimmage (for the defense) is takeaways, up until the second-to-last series, the offense didn’t turn the ball over one time but by that time the offense was way ahead. So I was really, really pleased with the work they did today, taking care of the ball, making good decisions.

“It’s a great competition, especially between Tyler and Drew. It is, it’s one probably where after this jersey scrimmage I’ll sit down with Tommy (Rees) and say, ‘Hey, give me your grades. Let’s talk about where you see these two.’ It’s still going to be an evolving process until you name a starter, but I wouldn’t hesitate to put either of the two in the game because they’re both really good football players who can help us win.

“I look forward to sitting down with Coach Rees and just really looking at it from a quarterbacks’ point of view, did the make the right decisions, and did they execute. It’s been really good.”

Rees noted the signal-callers had produced just one turnover-heavy session this spring – he noted it as a day that “Brandon Joseph showed up that day” for the Irish defense – and praised their overall decision-making and valuing of possession.

“That’s always an emphasis. You’re not going to play at that position if you don’t take care of the ball,” Rees said. “That’s been a point of emphasis all spring, and I think with the exception of one practice the first 11, they’ve been outstanding in that field. There was one practice, you guys asked about Brandon Joseph, well he showed up one day. Outside of that practice, they’ve done a really nice job of taking ownership of that. They know how critical it is, and I know how critical it is from my own mistakes.”

With Rees perched atop the viewing deck inside the IAC, in a de facto press box to simulate the gameday environment, Notre Dame’s third-year offensive coordinator praised the work of Bucher and Pyne in game administration.

“I thought both Drew and Ty did a really nice job of managing the show,” Rees said. “It was the first time, it’s a little different when I’m not standing out there with them and I’m up in the loft calling it like it will be on gameday.

“I thought they did a nice job of handing the offense, really taking ownership of it. They put some good drives together and found ways to score the ball. They had some opportunity in there with the second group where it’s a really challenge to make sure that they’re the leaders and they’re getting guys lined up and assigned right, and that’s by design.”

Though not factors in the starting race, freshman midyear enrollee Steve Angeli and Ron Powlus also logged a heavy volume of work – by Rees’ design.  

“I think I got two reps all spring and then in the spring game, you get thrown in there,” Rees said of his personal experience some decade ago. “I told them I’m not going to do that to you. You’re going to get a ton of reps from now until the time the spring game comes, so that when that day comes you guys are ready to go out there and operate.”

GOLDEN ASSESSMENT OF HARVARD TRANSFER CHRIS SMITH        

The Irish this week secured the services of graduate-transfer defensive lineman Chris Smith, and his impending addition was met with praise from new defensive coordinator Al Golden.

“Just a big, strong, physical guy,” Golden said of Smith. “You know, we needed an inside guy. He played well for (Harvard) both in his ability to anchor but also in the movement skills. So, he was looking to do this, you know, for one year, obviously, and make an impact somewhere.

“And we think he can help us. So, it's exciting to have him.”

Golden said Smith will “for sure” play along the Irish’s defensive interior.

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