The promising sidekick: Andrew Hendrix

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Hey, Andrew Hendrix was one of four scholarship quarterbacks last spring, too. It's just that, in his first spring, following a freshman season he redshirted in, well ...

"Last spring I was kind of like a chicken with its head cut off at times, just running around," Hendrix said. "I didn't really understand how our offense worked or even an offense worked. I wasn't as comfortable reading defenses as I am now."

And now?

"And now it's really exciting for me as things are falling into place for me as I see it," he said. "The game's slowing down for me and it makes it a lot easier, a lot less stressful. The game's a lot more fun when you're out there and you know what you're doing, so we're just trying to help Gunner [Kiel] and Everett [Golson], Tommy [Rees] and I. The more we all understand the game, the more fun it is for all of us."

Plays like the 78-yard dash Hendrix showed off last year in his first college game, late in Notre Dame's Week 6 rout of Air Force, proved plenty of fun for the then-sophomore. Plays like the fourth-quarter interception in a tight Champs Sports Bowl loss to Florida State, meanwhile, did not.

Hendrix saw more reps in the lead-up to the bowl game following the departure of Dayne Crist, along with an impressive relief outing after Rees struggled early in the regular-season finale loss at Stanford. But Hendrix started only one series against the Seminoles, and he finished the night with an underwhelming line of 3-for-8 passing for 24 yards.

"It's hard to say," Hendrix said when asked if he missed seizing an opportunity late in 2011. "Obviously I got more reps with the Dayne situation last year. I think that's when my development really started last year. So I think I've just been trying to build on my reps last year. In my mind maybe I gained confidence, I think, not to say that's what the real situation was. But right now I'm extremely confident. Any of the four quarterbacks are — you have to be in order to compete. So right now we're just all working to get better, and we'll see what happens later."

Hendrix, who appeared in five games last season, did add 26 yards on four carries in the loss, and he finished with 162 rushing yards and a score on 25 carries, bringing a dimension to the position that had not previously been seen in Brian Kelly's two years coaching the Irish.

The Cincinnati native said the mobility is a nice commodity, but understanding the offense and making quick decisions will be among the first priorities.

Putting a bad play behind him will be another step for Hendrix, Chuck Martin said, illustrating an exchange between the two during Notre Dame's first spring practice.

"A bad play happened. Andrew got that little body language that he gets when things go bad because he cares so much and he practices so hard," Martin, the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, recalled. "I'm like, 'Here's the first thing we got to correct: When it goes bad, Andrew, you got to turn around like you're Brett Favre. Because even the defensive guys look at you.

"'Hey, you threw the ball bad. Who cares? Everybody makes mistakes.'"

Whoever makes the least mistakes will likely be under center for the Sept. 1 opener in Dublin, Ireland, and the self-critical Hendrix knows forgetting his will go a long way in making progress.

"I always said that I'm my toughest critic — I'm always in competition with myself," Hendrix said. "So whether it's five guys or just me or two guys, I'm always competing with myself, whether I can do it better the next time. So that's the way I think about it. I'm not competing with anybody else but myself. I can only be the best quarterback I can be, so at the end of the day I can do that. I can't control what Tommy does, what Coach Kelly does, so as long as I can be the best me, that's all I can do."